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Squamish council withdraws support of Ashlu IPP

Squamish council has made an about face on its position over the Ashlu Creek Independent Power Project.

In a close vote Tuesday night the majority of council decided not to support the Ashlu Creek IPP.

The vote was a complete contradiction to council’s motion three weeks earlier at the Sept. 14 meeting where they voted to support the project.

The decision was applauded by at least two interest groups that have been opposed to the IPP on the Ashlu from the beginning.

"We’re excited that they considered the amount of input that they’ve been getting and the recreational issues and the issues the local residents have and took a stand on it," said Stuart Smith, river projects co-ordinator with the Whitewater Kayaking Association of B.C.

Smith, like many other kayakers in the area, has been a staunch opponent of the project from the outset.

The IPP will remove a portion of water from the Ashlu, send it into a steep pipeline and into a powerhouse further down the river, where it is used to make energy. Thereafter the water is sent back into the river.

Though considered a "green" power project by B.C. Hydro, kayakers like Smith are concerned about the project’s impact on the recreational use of the creek.

Another strong voice of opposition is coming from the local residents who have banded together under the Upper Squamish Valley Rural Association. Tom Rankin, a member of that group, said Squamish council did the right thing on Tuesday night.

"(It was) a wonderful example of government representing the people," he said.

"It’s nice to see that council had lots of time to consider what they’d been up to and they’ve done the right thing for Squamish and the whole corridor, which is great."

Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland did not return phone calls before press time on Wednesday night.

Smith however attributes the change of heart at the council table mostly to the fact that the previous vote on Sept. 14 was held with only five council members present.

Tuesday’s vote, on the other hand, was held with a full seven-member council. Four voted against supporting the project.

Despite being excited about the outcome Smith still has concerns about the debate among Squamish councillors, which he said highlights a lack of information.

"One of the things that is of concern is … some of the people at the meeting didn’t have all the information and didn’t really understand the information they do have," he said.

Ledcor’s Project Manager Kelly Boychuk also expressed concerns about misinformation in the community and at the council table.

He said the three members of council who voted to support the project, namely Mayor Ian Sutherland and Councillors Raj Kahlon and Sonja Lebans, made the effort to come to the project’s information office and learn about Ledcor’s proposal.

Despite the lack of support from the District of Squamish, the project could still move ahead if it gets other approvals, particularly from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.

One public hearing has been held to date but the SLRD delayed voting on the project after more information came to light.

A second public hearing will be held later this year after which the board will make its final decision.

Project developers Ledcor also need approvals from other agencies, namely the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and Land and Water B.C., among others.