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Province won't shut asphalt plant

Almost 450 signatures collected for nuisane petition, Whistler Mayor withholds support
TOO LEGIT TO QUIT? The Government of B.C. won't shut down the Cheakamus Crossing asphalt plant, saying the "nuisance" claim is a matter for the courts. Photo by Alison Taylor

Cheakamus residents may have rallied en masse through a grassroots petition to declare the local asphalt plant a nuisance, but the petition is not grounds to shut down operations said the province.

In fact, the province considers the long-operating plant and quarry operations of Whistler Aggregates to be "providing quality employment and materials for public infrastructure projects."

The petition, which was signed by 444 residents of Cheakamus Crossing and Spring Creek in March, is ultimately moot, because it seeks to have the plant declared a nuisance under the Licence of Occupation; that is not possible.

In an emailed response to Pique, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations explained: "The terms of the license that refer to public nuisance are related to Nuisance Law which is common law tort. It must be decided by the courts, and not by petition."

The spokesperson also made clear that the province supports the asphalt and quarry operations of Whistler Aggregates.

The owners of Cheakamus Crossing, said the government spokesperson, signed a disclosure statement acknowledging the presence of the plant before moving in to the athletes village neighbourhood after the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

"It is very clear that the 'possibility of relocating the asphalt operation' was not guaranteed," said the spokesperson.

"A misunderstanding between the purchaser and seller of units does not justify penalizing a neighbouring, local business providing quality employment and materials for public infrastructure projects who was not party to the development of Cheakamus Crossing."

No Asphalt Plant 2 (NAP 2) spokesperson Judy Bonn, who has not heard directly from the province in response to the mailed petition, said the group is prepared to continue the fight on the public stage with protests and blockades should the province fail to listen to its demands.

"We are not prepared to stop in case the outcome is not what we desire, which I believe it will be," she said. "We will not live like this.

"This, to me, is a civilized, legal way to resolve the problem. I know that some of the people here are much more aggressive than I am."

That threat of staging protests, among other issues, has driven a wedge between Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and NAP 2, which had enjoyed open and cooperative dialogue with the mayor up to this point. NAP 2 has been hoping to keep the dialogue with local government amicable and transparent given the fractious relationship between the first incarnation of NAP and the previous council.

But Wilhelm-Morden isn't keen to have Whistler as the top story on the news with stories of unrest and highway blockades. And she told the group so.

"I said that that would be problematic because it may well involve the RCMP then that would involve the media and there would be a spotlight on Whistler that could harm Whistler's reputation," explained the mayor.

"They seemed to think that that was all OK."

She is referring to a conversation on March 8 with NAP 2 reps Bonn and Zsa Zsa Farsang. In that meeting, Bonn and Farsang asked the mayor to write a letter to support the petition.

She would not, again reiterating the provincial statement that only the courts can decide if the plant is a nuisance under common law. If NAP 2 wants any traction, they would be best to hire a lawyer and fight it out in the courts, said the mayor.

"I said (to the reps from NAP 2) that I did not support it because I didn't think it would accomplish anything," said the mayor.

That position doesn't sit well with Bonn.

"It's quite clear that the mayor and her council are not supporting us in trying to (relieve) our suffering by living by this industrial petroleum complex," said Bonn.

The mayor made clear this week that she was not speaking on behalf of council, just herself.

"It was very disappointing," said Bonn. "Because we do remember... and we were present when Nancy was campaigning before the election.

"She was very much agreeing that it (the plant) was a problem."

The mayor said she does not feel as though she's broken any election promises.

While council voted against appealing a BC Supreme Court decision last year that declared the plant legally zoned to operate where it is, it has made other moves. It charged a third party negotiator to work with plant owner Frank Silveri. Those talks disintegrated, however, when council put a three-kilometre residential radius stipulation in all municipal road contracts, effectively cutting off the Whistler plant from supplying asphalt.

The situation was again exacerbated this past winter when council voted on a road restructuring program every three years, as opposed to annually; again, potentially cutting off Frank Silveri's once-guaranteed contracts.

Municipal Administrator Mike Furey called Silveri before that program was made public to give him a head's up. The mayor struggled to find the words to characterize the current relationship between the municipality and Silveri.

But as for broken election promises, the mayor said: "I don't think that's true at all. We're working diligently to do what we can to follow through on that process. We need the cooperation of (Whistler Aggregates owner) Frank Silveri."

Staging protests will not foster a spirit of cooperation, she added.

"I just don't know what that will accomplish other than exacerbating the situation."

She also expressed disappointment that notes from that March 8 meeting have been circulating though she was not given the courtesy of reviewing them before distribution.

Notes were not taken at the meeting she added.

As part of her submission to the province, Bonn included a detailed history of the events leading up to the recent petition.

This included the 82 complaints from community members to the bylaw department in 2010, the year residents began to move into Cheakamus at the end of the summer.

The following year, in 2011, 405 complaints were logged with bylaw.

Bonn's submission states that the bylaw department was unable to provide data for 2012.

When asked about the number of complaints that year, the municipal communications department said 13 emails were logged. It's not clear how many phone calls were made to bylaw.

Silveri's Licence of Occupation expires in 2017 "and will receive fair consideration for replacement," according to the province.

The Ministry of Environment has also inspected the site and has not presented any environmental concerns of non-compliance.