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Sea Doo launch raises sustainability debate among council

Bombardier to launch 2006 products on Green Lake in September

Despite a noise bylaw which prohibits personal watercrafts on Green Lake, council has allowed Bombardier to launch its 2006 Sea Doo products on the lake next year.

It was a tough decision for some councillors, sparking a debate at Monday’s meeting which highlighted the delicate balance between the social, environmental and economic factors of sustainability.

As a businessman Councillor Gordon McKeever said he saw the economic value in approving Bombardier’s product launch. The 2005 meeting, which will run from Sept. 23 to 28, will draw up to 1,000 delegates to the resort. They’ll be coming at a time when there is typically 30 per cent occupancy in Whistler.

"…(H)osting Bombardier would extend the peak season into September for all resort retailers, restaurants, and hotels," wrote Tourism Whistler President Barrett Fisher in a letter requesting council’s support for the 2006 launch. That represents an economic impact in Whistler of more than $1.6 million.

At the same time McKeever struggled with the environmental impacts of the activity. No matter how environmentally friendly or "green" Bombardier strives to make its products, there are still repercussions on the environment. He said he had to balance the pros and cons before eventually voting in favour of Bombardier’s request.

Councillor Ken Melamed saw the issue a little differently.

"I’m more willing to draw lines in the sand," he said as he made his arguments against the product launch in Whistler.

Bombardier’s ultimate goal is to sell more Sea Doo’s he said. That will undoubtedly add to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. And that isn’t consistent with Whistler’s goals, particularly The Natural Step, which is the backbone of the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan.

The CSP is the newly adopted planning document which will guide decision-making in Whistler for the next 15 years. Decisions will be filtered through The Natural Step, which is a process to gauge how sustainable each decision is. Promoting Sea Doo’s is not an image Whistler, the so-called poster-child of sustainability, should be associated with, said Melamed.

"We are going to be scrutinized and criticized," he added. "We need to start drawing the line on activities that consume fossil fuels."

Mayor Hugh O’Reilly focused more on the positive work Bombardier has done to develop products which are less harmful to the environment. For example, one of the watercrafts which may perform on Green Lake shows a potential drop in noise pollution 50 per cent below the conventional two-stroke engines, as a result of Bombardier’s "whistler-quiet" technology.

"These are people moving in the right direction," said O’Reilly.

He sees the product launch as a way to share Whistler’s story about sustainability with a forward-thinking Canadian company. The alternative would be that Bombardier launches their product in the U.S., for example, in a place where they won’t have the opportunity to learn about Whistler’s sustainability initiatives.

"(We) may as well do it on our turf and on our own terms," said O’Reilly.

Bombardier is aware of Whistler’s concerns. The company has agreed to lower its demonstration times on the lake from 36 hours to no more than 32 hours. Bombardier has also agreed that there will be no photos of the Sea Doo’s on Green Lake which will be used for marketing.

Melamed however remained critical of the process.

If council had been given more notice, the municipality could have reviewed the request through The Natural Step, a process which is becoming more commonplace at municipal hall. Time constraints did not allow that to happen and Melamed said that’s not a great way to build partnerships in the community.

Both Tourism Whistler and the Fairmont Chateau Whistler were behind the request to allow Bombardier’s products on Green Lake.

Councillor Marianne Wade saw the decision as a good step in the right direction, consistent with the principles and goals in the CSP.

This request was a learning step for council, who are just now beginning to use the CSP as a way to guide their decisions.

"It’s hard when you start to implement something," she said. "It’s not 100 per cent perfect."

Four members of council out of seven were at Monday’s meeting. Melamed was the only one to oppose Bombardier’s product launch on Green Lake.