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AWARE on track in 2001

AGM show group to tackle composting, wetlands, Olympics, and Sea to Sky LRMP For the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment – better known in the community as AWARE – 2001 was a breakthrough year.

AGM show group to tackle composting, wetlands, Olympics, and Sea to Sky LRMP

For the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment – better known in the community as AWARE – 2001 was a breakthrough year.

A strategic planning meeting in 2000 gave the group a mandate. Successful applications for funding over the past year have given AWARE the resources to carry that mandate out.

"When you look at our plan for the coming year, it’s all laid out for us already, and it all began with the strategic planning session we had in 2000," says AWARE president Mitch Rhodes. "Certainly we’ll be able to deliver on the projects we’ve taken on, like community composting and the recovery of wetlands, and we’ve already spent the money we’ve raised on the Whistler Sustainability Initiative on those toolkits.

"The Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan is coming up this year, and we’re already heavily involved in that. This is also going to be the biggest year in the community regarding the Olympic bid, it all has to come together this year, and we are involved in that as well.

"Hiring Tina (Symko) as our project co-ordinator late in the year was also a key piece of the puzzle. We know we can raise money for a specific project, but if we don’t have an administrator to call the volunteers and make sure the work gets done, we’re not going to be moving as fast as we could be."

At AWARE’s annual general meeting at the Fairmont Chateau on Jan. 13, the picture that Rhodes and other board members painted of the organization was rosy.

The three key areas identified for action in the strategic planning session were the community composting initiative, the initiative to protect Whistler’s valley bottom (including wetlands), and the initiative to protect areas in Whistler’s "wilderness backyard," including the Elaho and Sims valleys outside of Squamish and the proposed parks in the Lillooet area. Since then the Olympics, transportation, and the Whistler Sustainability Initiative have been added to the active list.

In the past year, AWARE has raised close to $90,000 for projects related to these areas, and, more importantly, made partnerships that will help see the projects through.

In the area of composting, AWARE’s Community Composting Project secured $28,000 in funding; $14,000 each from the Community Foundation of Whistler and the Vancouver Foundation.

The money has already been used to install 20 worm composting bins in Myrtle Philip Community School, and more bins will be installed in the new school at Spring Creek, along with a composting shed.

According to Sara Leech, the director of AWARE’s composting committee, the next step is to secure a spot to put a community composting demonstration garden. "We have everything ready to go if we can find a place for it," says Leach.

On a larger scale, the committee is also waiting to see what the result is of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District’s centralized composting feasibility study, which will be ready as a first draft in March of 2002. The ultimate goal is to see either the community or the region implement a community composting program.

The composting committee also includes Jane Millan, Wendy Horan and Allana Hamm.

AWARE’s valley wetland initiatives also received a boost in 2001. The Whistler Valley Wetland committee was successful in raising $30,000 – $15,000 each from the Community Foundation of Whistler and the Vancouver Foundation – for a three year project. The majority of the funds will go towards restoring damaged wetlands, while a small portion will go towards education.

The Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group and B.C. Hydro will be partners in the project, and B.C. Hydro has already committed an additional $1,000.

AWARE members Wendy Horan, and Tyler Mosher helped make the partnership possible, as did Fisheries Stewardship Group members Veronica Sommerville and Lisa Helmer. Inge Flannigan, AWARE’s vice president, will head up the wetlands project in 2002.

The Whistler’s Wilderness Backyard initiative received a few major setbacks over the past year, according to AWARE director Eckhard Zeidler.

Things have been quiet in the Elaho and Sims Valley as Interfor, the timber company that owns the rights to log in the area, continues to negotiate with the Squamish Nation over the First Nation’s land use plan.

In its five-year logging plan, however, Interfor does plan to move operations further up the Elaho Valley to an area north of Cessna Creek.

"There’s no bold strike into the heart (of the valley), but it’s the death of a thousand cuts," says Zeidler, who is hopeful that negotiations with the Squamish Nation will lead to the creation of a large protected area in the Valley.

Another cutblock in the Sims Valley, number 72-4, was downgraded to information status to allow for the creation of a trail from Sims Creek to Jervis Inlet.

Zeidler is less optimistic for the Lillooet area after the provincial government sided with the resource industry and reopened the land and resource management plan in the area that would have seen the creation of new parks.

Tides Canada and the Endswell Foundation contributed money for an educational report on the Elaho and Sims.

AWARE’s Olympic committee has also been successful, and has members sitting on various Olympic working groups, including transportation, athlete housing, the Nordic centre in the Callaghan Valley, and the bid’s sustainability group.

"We were already spread pretty thinly working on other projects, but the Olympic issue was looming and it was too big to ignore," says AWARE board member and Olympic committee head Brad Kasselman.

"Clearly we have the ear of the bid committee, and are already influencing the bid. The (Bid Corporation) worked hard on sustainability in the early planning, and there is a lot of work to do in the next year.

"Any event, big or small, needs to be filtered through (The Natural Step sustainability framework’s) four system conditions – not to judge whether the Olympics are good or bad for the area, but to make sure that the Games will benefit the community in the long run, and that the plans include principles of sustainability."

AWARE has also received financial grants that aren’t linked to specific projects, which the organization can use for educational campaigns and to cover administrative costs. Once again AWARE received $10,000 from the municipality’s grant-in-aid program. The Whistler Golf Club contributed part of the proceeds from its annual member’s day tournament, as did the Festival of Lights; Telus gives AWARE 10 cents for every old phone book; and Carney’s Waste Systems once again made a donation.

Through David Sanigan of Medallion Wines, AWARE will also receive a donation for every bottle and glass of Banrock Station wine sold in Whistler, which will go towards their wetlands project.

In addition to the summary of the year’s activities, the membership also elected and re-elected 14 new members for next year. Their positions on the board will be decided at a meeting on Jan. 21.

The 2002 board is Allana Hamm, Johnny Mikes, Mitch Rhodes, Inge Flannigan, Eckhard Zeidler, Judy Stockton, Brad Kasselman, Lisa Princic, Laura Princic, Michele Comeau, Jeff Moore, Wendy Horan, Keenan Moses and Sue Stangel.

Rhodes says he will accept the presidency once again if the board is in favour of it.

"It was a fantastic experience," he says. "This was my second year in AWARE, and in the president’s role I think I was able to carry on a little more with some of the strategic planning issues we started in the year 2000.

"We’re taking an educational approach at this point, educating people as to what we’re all about, as opposed to the more traditional position with business groups, which is adversarial."

Membership will be a huge focus for AWARE in 2002, and with funding in hand and a project co-ordinator to help out, Rhodes feels AWARE is in a good position to improve its visibility in the community.

Another priority is to secure alternate sources of funding that will allow AWARE to continue to pay a project co-ordinator to help organize activities, fundraising and membership drives.