Hydro lines stymie Pemberton Equifest 

Village finding it challenging to use land under power lines

Pemberton's biggest horse showcase is a no-go this year as hydro lines have zapped organizers' attempts to hold it in the town centre.

Pemberton Equifest, an annual event that aims to show off varying styles of horsemanship, was initially slated for an arena next to Pemberton's community centre but some high-capacity power lines above the venue have made it impossible to hold it there.

Equifest organizer Deborah Esseltine said she hoped to have it at the outdoor arena because it would encourage more people to come but a warning from B.C. Hydro has nixed that idea.

In a letter sent Aug. 11, B.C. Hydro Property Coordinator Julie Dalla Gassa writes that neither the Crown Corporation nor the B.C. Transmission Corporation can support the event on that property due to "insufficient conductor to ground clearance."

The outdoor arena, which was rebuilt using community funds after serving as a venue for the Pemberton Valley Horse Club, sits directly beneath two 230,000 volt electrical lines that cross the Village and carry on along the highway into Whistler.

Esseltine was present when the arena was rebuilt. She said builders tried to locate the arena as far as possible from the power lines within the boundary of the property it sits on but evidently never moved it far enough. B.C. Hydro can't let them hold a horse event there because sitting on a horse could put you too close to the lines themselves.

"It puts you at a risk of being electrocuted, I guess," Esseltine said in an interview. "You would be too close to them was their concern. We did locate the arena as far as we could, within the boundaries of the setback of the property... but we still weren't completely out from under the hydro lines."

The recently-built Pemberton bike park also sits under the hydro lines but they're far enough from the ground for people to play there and the only threat is electromagnetic radiation.

In the letter sent by B.C. Hydro, Della Gassa writes that horse trailers are "much larger" than the average vehicle and that putting them in this arena could violate the "limits of approach" and result in electric shock or contact with the wires.

The lines present a bigger problem in the summer because they carry a higher capacity of electricity, according to Mayor Jordan Sturdy. He said they carry over capacity when there's peak demands for electricity in Vancouver, causing the lines to heat up and sag further.

"Sometimes it's higher and sometimes it's lower," he said.

Normally Equifest could also hold the event at Rohan Stables on Clover Road, the venue that has hosted the event for the past three years. But this past winter that venue's indoor arena had its roof cave in and it's not fixed yet.

But even if it were to be held at Rohan Stables, Esseltine feels that wouldn't be good for the event, which has seen declining attendance in recent years there. After a successful event in 2007 that saw the addition of trick riding, flashy demonstrations and a kids area, the 2008 event only drew 300 people - hardly the attendance Esseltine was hoping for.

"We had a fairly good attendance from riders and participants and it's always enjoyed by riders and participants," Esseltine said. "But in terms of spending for some of the kids' activities and for the demonstrators you can't pay for that just through the riders' fees."

At one point it was suggested that she hold the event as simply a "gymkhana" event - specifically, an equestrian event with timed games for riders on horses, without the added demonstrations. Esseltine wants Equifest to go beyond that.

"To put that much effort into it over the six years and then just go back to being a gymkhana without all the added attractions just didn't' sit right with me," she said. "The Equifest is meant to be more than that because we bring in riders out of Langley. The last two years we had riders from Alberta doing demonstrations, so we're actually drawing people to the town."

Sturdy said the hydro lines have been an issue in Pemberton for a long time and there's very little the village can plausibly do about them. He said the village investigated the possibility of raising the lines with wooden poles, but that would have cost about $100,000 - and the poles would have gone right through the outdoor horse arena.

Another option was burying the power lines - a job that would cost $8,000 a metre. At 600 metres, that would cost $4,800,000. And that's without taking into account whether the $8,000 rate would only apply to a single power line. There are three that would need to be buried.

"We would like to have access, unfettered access to that property," Sturdy said. "It's high visibility, high opportunity land that is owned by the community. We're finding it very challenging to find acceptable uses for it."

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