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Faith and frustration

Next Tuesday, frustrations surrounding Cheakamus Crossing and the asphalt plant will be vented for, perhaps, the final time.

Next Tuesday, frustrations surrounding Cheakamus Crossing and the asphalt plant will be vented for, perhaps, the final time. The public hearing for the bylaws that permit the plant to be moved 150 metres and require it to meet new air quality standards is the last opportunity to speak to council about the matter, and it promises to be a long meeting.

There are frustrations on all sides, including those residents of Cheakamus Crossing who have moved into the new neighbourhood and are happy with their homes. It stems from the fact that all of Whistler has an interest in Cheakamus Crossing succeeding. Indeed, the whole province has a stake, since it was provincial taxpayers who provided the land for the neighbourhood.

But perhaps the greatest frustration is with how we got to this imperfect "solution."

It started last November when about 100 people who had signed disclosure statements before purchasing homes at Cheakamus Crossing showed up at a council meeting to express concerns and ask questions about the asphalt plant. Council had few answers. After two hours of discussion council agreed to get staff to work on the unanswered questions, including the cost of moving the plant, potential relocation sites and to investigate the legal ramifications of the zoning.

For his part, Alpine Paving's Frank Silveri said, "I'm willing to give up part of my claim to make things better for everyone. They won't even know we're there."

A week later council voted 4-2 (with Mayor Ken Melamed and Councillor Chris Quinlan opposed) to move the asphalt plant by June 1. "Great goal," Quinlan said to Councillor Ted Milner of his deadline. "Love to see it happen. What are you going to do when we can't deliver June 1?"

"It might not be possible to stop the operations of the plant without repercussions that you might regret, that we all might regret," said the mayor.

"The issue here is the history and the exposure to the municipality," said Administrator Bill Barratt.

The next week Silveri came back and said he couldn't move the plant in six months. The military was taking over his site from Dec. 15 to March 15 to keep an eye on the athletes' village and he had contracts in place for the spring.

"I'm certainly not going to pay for it, that's for damn sure," he said. "If someone didn't do the paperwork, is that my fault?" he asked of the missing zoning.

Council also shut down for nearly three months as the Olympics and Paralympics assumed top priority. When council finally met again, on March 23, the mayor announced that the June 1 date was not going to be met but council was studying seven options for moving the asphalt plant. The options had been presented at an in camera meeting.

"Council might be interested potentially in getting the input from the community based on the report because there are a number of implications within the report for the community at large as well as residents at Cheakamus Crossing," said Melamed.

Two weeks later, at the April 6 council meeting the mayor announced: "The lawyers have given us advice that suggests we can't compel him to move. (Silveri) has a legal right to stay where he is and operate as he is. That's the legal opinion that we have."

The municipality also announced it cannot help pay to move the asphalt plant, estimated to cost between $1 and $2 million, or provide any subsidy to upgrade the plant. So negotiations were ongoing.

At the April 20 meeting it became apparent the matter was in the hands of municipal staff to sort out.

"Council is aware of some aspects of the direction staff is taking, but we want to make it possible for staff to work as freely as possible with the owner and all will be revealed in good time," said Melamed.

There were now nine options on the table and three potential sites where the asphalt plant could be relocated: Callaghan-Brandywine, north of Emerald Estates or a few hundred metres from the existing site.

A public open house on the whole matter, including a tour of the asphalt plant was planned for May 20. But a week before that open house the municipality announced that it had entered into an agreement with Alpine Paving to relocate the asphalt plant 150 metres south of its current site. The agreement, which was signed at an in camera meeting, included a stringent new air quality bylaw. Silveri agreed to spend $1 million to upgrade his plant and the municipality announced it was paying about $400,000 in legal costs.

"This was a very sensitive negotiation and it needed to be signed to ensure our ability to deliver on this option," said the mayor. "The alternative was the status quo and that was not a place we were prepared to go."

While the results of the in camera vote are unknown, Councillors Eckhard Zeidler and Ralph Forsythe expressed their frustration with the process at the May 18 council meeting.

And that brings us to Tuesday's public hearing. We don't know, and won't know, all that council knows - the legal opinion the municipality received, the in camera discussions or why an agreement was signed with Silveri before other options could be publicly explored. But this is where we are. This is the "solution."

Without these missing bits of information it comes down to a question of faith. Faith that the municipality has done all it can and that it is enough. Faith in the environmental studies and faith that environmental monitoring will be done.

It's a lot to ask, given what we don't know. But many have already shown their faith. I'd take that leap, too.