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Lots at Britannia Beach ‘sold’ in four days

Mining town about to be transformed through real estate development, mine clean up

If it weren’t for the mine it would be easy to miss.

Unlike many of the other communities along the Sea to Sky Highway, for almost a century Britannia Beach, the "front door to Squamish", has remained largely untouched by land developers.

The houses at Britannia Beach were originally for miners who, at one time, worked on the largest copper mine in the Commonwealth. Then, in the 1950s, workers building Highway 99 moved in.

It was a ramshackle town thrown together to house a bunch of people who were there to work, not play.

Back then no one thought the land might actually return some serious business of its own.

But all that changed earlier this month when MacDonald Development Corporation, the "landlord" at Britannia Beach, received offers on 91 new lots in four days. The total value is nearly $25 million. Sales of the properties won’t close until next spring.

Meanwhile, the residents of Britannia Beach also have until June next year to decide whether they will buy or rent their existing homes, but at press time 33 of the 105 residential lots had been spoken for by the residents who live on them.

There have been other developers come and go at Britannia Beach but Macdonald Developments Corporation, or MDC, have brokered a solid deal with the community and the result is shaping into something that should benefit everyone.

According to Jerry Bordian of MDC, by June next year Britannia Beach should have "new water, new sewage and new hydro, electrical and cable lines, which will be put underground."

There should also be new roads and landscaping that will reshape the town into a modern neighbourhood.

Another mitigating factor in the development of Britannia Beach is that the provincial government, in particular Natural Resources Canada, is working to turn the mine from an "eyesore" to a unique tourist attraction that showcases Canada’s sustainable mining techniques.

This project has five stages and if enough funding is forthcoming then by 2008 Britannia Beach could also have a mine site that’s been cleaned and revamped to include a raft of features and a research facility.

Bordian said his company had worked closely with the provincial government but he also praised the residents for their involvement in the redevelopment.

"We did have a good working relationship with the province because we were hoping to be part of the Britannia solution," said Bordian.

"The residents have also worked hard and the Britannia Beach committee has done a good job with the community working on building schemes and rezoning bylaws and all the other issues.

"But I think it was about seeing if we could assist each other to achieve a vision for Britannia and I think over time this can happen because these kinds of projects are complicated."

MDC’s deal with the community involves three options.

Residents can either buy the land their homes or trailers stand on, or they can rent-free for a year, or they can sign a four-year lease with the eventual owners of the land they’re on.

The x-factor in this deal is that MDC offered the land to the residents for 25 per cent off the appraised price, which means the residents will have equity as soon as they decide to buy.

Mary Ann Clark from MDC has been overseeing the marketing and sales of this development and she said she didn’t know of any other company that would offer that kind of deal to residents.

"I could sell these lots 10 times over," said Clark.

"But the assumption we’re making is that they (the residents) own their houses and they will take up the houses until they tell us otherwise."

While there are a number of residents still grappling with all the changes in the community one resident, Jane Iverson, said many people were in favour of the changes.

"There are quite a lot of people that want this to happen, of course there’s some people that have problems with their houses, like slope instability, and they will have to work through those problems," said Iverson.

"But when they did a survey in Britannia Beach just after they (MDC) bought the place last November, 80 per cent of people in the town indicated they wanted to buy.

"The prices are higher than what anybody would have guessed, which is difficult for some of us because the price is higher than the rent we’ve been paying.

"But it’s a great opportunity because we may never have this opportunity again and by them giving us 25 per cent off the price of the house we’ve already got equity."

Most lots in Britannia Beach are being sold for around $220,000.

"The bottom line is that when the title changes hands next year we will all have to make a decision by then or leave the premises," said Iverson.

By next year the provincial government and Natural Resource Canada should also be into the final stages of completing a water treatment plant at the Britannia mine.

And after that Doctor John Meech from the Department of Mining Engineering at the University of British Columbia said a research centre could be installed that explores new sustainable mining methods, such as tapping into geothermal energy in used mines and transforming "sludge" into materials for building.

Dr. Meech was also part of a UBC program in December 2001 that put a plug in the mine to stop pollutants seeping into Howe Sound.

"That was the first step of what’s become a pretty complex process of cleaning up the whole site," said Dr. Meech.

"The next phase is the installation of a water treatment plant and it’s currently out for tender to three companies to enter into a P3 agreement with the government.

"They’ll be deciding on the winner of that bid in November and the water treatment plant should be up and running in September next year.

"That will eliminate all the pollution, effectively, going into Howe Sound.

"In parallel with that program NRCAN – Natural Resources Canada – has mounted a program to build an innovation centre in conjunction with the museum and with UBC with respect to research which would showcase Canadian sustainable mining practices.

"If that comes to be Britannia the mine will be turned from the eyesore it is today to a real showcase of what Canadian sustainable mining is all about.

"The whole community would become a sustainable community and there’s projects involved in that that would look at extracting heat from the acid rock drainage and heat the entire community with geothermal energy.

"There’s also a possibility of taking the sludge that would be produced and creating a company that would manufacturer ceramic materials that might be used as cladding for buildings."