Whistler's wildfire risk costs more to manageCommerce writes letter to IOC on human rights 

Horstman Estates approved, Alpine next on the agenda IOC needs to take action: Litwin

click to enlarge future fire work
  • future fire work

It costs more to manage wildfire risk in Whistler than in other B.C. communities, which is why the municipality is paying for the trucking costs for this spring's project above Horstman Estates.

While that project is just nine hectares and estimated to cost the municipality $150,000, a much bigger project is on the horizon for the west side of the valley and it's not clear just how much that will impact the budget.

"As Whistler is an international resort destination, the work in Whistler is done with a higher level of care and largely by hand, instead of using bulldozers and other machines," said a statement from the municipality's communication department in response to questions about the funding.

"This work takes more time, which adds to the cost."

Grant funding for thinning comes from the province, but is administered by a working group that includes the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

The municipality reached an agreement with the UBCM last year for the Horstman project at $22,500 per hectare.

At nine hectares, the total project cost is $202,500.

The UBCM, as is standard practice, will kick in 90 per cent of the costs at $182,000. Whistler will then kick in 10 per cent of the thinning portion of the project at $20,000, in addition to all the trucking costs.

In total it could cost the municipality $150,000 for the nine-hectare project.

"We won't know actuals until the work is carried out in the spring," emailed the communications department.

The agreement was reached in an effort to reduce overall costs, making Whistler's project a better application for the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative (SWPI).

Paul Taylor, UBCM's director of communications, said when per-hectare costs are high, communities may contribute more than the standard 10 per cent of the project costs.

"In instances where the costs of fuel treatment are high (for example: due to topography; accessibility; hauling distance; tipping fees or the ability to sell the timber removed), the provincial Fuel Management Working Group works with the applicant to adjust the project cost, which sometimes impacts the community contribution," wrote Taylor in a email.

"This flexibility is provided so that communities with higher treatment costs are not turned away, while at the same time keeping the program equitable and cost effective."

In her report to council last week, Heather Beresford, Whistler's environmental stewardship manager, explained why Whistler's costs were higher.

"The difference arises because most communities do a rougher thinning job using machines rather than the amount of handwork Whistler does, and they will burn the wood debris on site while Whistler trucks it to the composter.

"This provides needed woody material for the composter and keeps the projects in compliance with our burning bylaw."

Beresford added that Whistler's approach could be revisited in the future if there is a wish to reduce costs.

With the Horstman project approved and ready to go this spring, Whistler is now focused on its next targeted area — 55 hectares (136 acres) of forest on the west side of the valley, primarily near the Alpine subdivision.

When asked if that project would be calculated at $22,500 per hectare for a total of more than $1.2 million (not including trucking costs), the municipal communications department emailed: "This is a blanket calculation that doesn't take specifics into account... The operational thinning costs will be determined once the prescription is prepared which will take into account forest type, terrain conditions, interface etc."

The municipality is now preparing its plan of attack for the coming year with three specific areas in mind. They are: 9.1 hectares north of Alta Lake and Rainbow Park (part of the Cheakamus Community Forest), 23.8 hectares above Valley Drive and 21.8 hectares above Alpine Way.

The Whistler Chamber of Commerce (IOC) is doing its part in supporting human rights by lobbying the International Olympic Committee.

The organization's president, Val Litwin, wrote IOC president Thomas Bach on Feb. 17 encouraging him to recall the Olympic Charter's commitment to "cooperate with competent organizations and authorities in the endeavor to place sport at the service of humanity."

Litwin sent the letter as Russia's anti-gay stance threatened to overshadow the Olympic Games in Sochi, which ended Feb.23. The Games were held without any reports of human rights violations so far.

"The tone of our letter is really one of measured call to action," said Litwin.

"We think the IOC is doing incredible work and certainly their openness to this conversation is evident. The intent of the letter was a call to recall their charter and to embrace moments where the IOC can make a statement in support of humanity and not aligning with what I think we can all agree are quite arcane laws."

In the case of Sochi, homophobic laws were passed after the Russian city was chosen to host the Olympic Winter Games so the issue developed after the IOC awarded Sochi the Games.

"Leading up to the Olympics many of us in the community up here were feeling quite exasperated," said Litwin. "Every time you log onto GlobeandMail.com or open a paper it's just more about Russia's anti-gay stance.

"We felt compelled to speak up and write a letter to the IOC."

Maureen Douglas was in Sochi between Feb. 1 and 9 to tackle this issue as part of a delegation put together by the City of Vancouver. Douglas did some consulting work for Sochi and she was the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games' liaison to Whistler Pride House.

Openly gay Vancouver city councillor Tim Stevenson was also part of the delegation sent to Sochi. The group met with a number of people to share thoughts on human rights at the Olympics and to push for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) rights be enshrined in the Olympic Charter.

"The one and only meeting that really mattered most of all was that meeting with the IOC," said Douglas.

The group almost got a meeting with the mayor of Sochi.

"We were very explicit in the message we sent through to the mayor's office in Sochi," Douglas said. "We'd sent a request early once we were there and we were very clear that we were leaving in the very early hours of Feb. 9."

She explained that the mayor's office called on Feb. 7 to see if the delegation could meet the mayor on the morning on Feb. 9. Douglas responded by asking for just 10 minutes at any time with the mayor on Feb. 8 but the meeting couldn't be arranged.

"We weren't ever sure if he ever knew exactly who we were, but they were saying he had zero time to meet on the eighth," said Douglas. "We weren't completely surprised given that we were some of the people on the ground making it clear that the mayor was obviously mistaken and there were indeed gay people in Sochi.

Douglas said the pre-Games reports of the mayor telling reporters there were no gay people in Sochi was damaging to the mayor.

"Those aren't the headlines most world mayors like to make," she said.

The three goals Douglas' group entered Russia with were met — they were to discuss sexual inclusion at the Games, bring forward the idea of having pride houses at the Olympics and to connect with the LGBT community in Sochi and Russia.



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