Last May the town of Squamish was at a crossroads. The crux of the matter was a then just announced wood chip reload plant, to be located near the town centre.
The controversial plant was scrapped this week after Howe Sound Pulp and Paper said it couldnt wait any longer for the plant to be built. This followed a stormy public hearing Feb. 5 in Squamish, where a large crowd was largely in favour of the plant, just not in the proposed location. But Squamish remains a divided town.
Until the wood chip plant came along it had been the stated philosophy of Squamish council to move away from a traditional resource-based economy, to encourage new business that would promote the ideal of Squamish as a tourist destination and in the meantime revitalize the downtown area. Several businesses moved into the area or were in the process of making that move, based on the official community plan.
This past fall a local citizens group manage to halt GBA Logging s proposed plant, when the British Columbia Supreme court ruled that the plant was not in keeping with the sites present zoning (light industrial only). GBA mounted a challenge to this ruling and asked that the Squamish town council amend the zoning with a new bylaw.
Monday, Feb. 5 a public hearing was held at Brennan Park Leisure Centre so the people of Squamish could have their final say in the matter before council made its ruling.
Emotions ran high and the auditorium was filled to capacity, with the overflow having to be accommodated in the lobby. Over 100 speakers signed in and the meeting that began at 7 p.m. stretched past midnight.
First to speak was Greg Richmond president of GBA Logging, who urged the town of Squamish not to squander its future and allow further erosion of industrial lands. He told those in attendance that he expected mis-information from opponents, then reaffirmed that he thought the present site was a good location for the plant.
Bob Smith who announced that he had been a resident of Squamish for 33 years, said "he was appalled at the goings on of the last six months," and in support of the plant said, "youre only talking about a little pile of wood chips." He also drew comparisons between Squamish and Whistler and said that he did not want to be in the business of competing with (Whistler) for tourist dollars.
Sandra Davis said that she had been a resident of Brackendale for the last seven and half years and that she supports logging, just not this wood chip plant in this location. She singled out the mayor and town council and blamed them for breeding intolerance and dividing the town. She finished her statement, by saying emphatically "find a new location for your plant!" She was met with a rousing applause.
Jeanie Luca also a long-term resident and supporter of the facility, was not without her own supporters. She lamented the loss of forestry jobs in recent years, saying that she wanted her old Squamish back and a good job for her husband and their children when they grew up, so that they would not have to move away. She contradicted Sandra Davis, saying she thought the plant was in the right location and that it should go ahead.
Several speakers saved their toughest criticisms for the town council and mayor, often prefacing their statements with the comment that they were not anti-logging or that they were in fact pro-forestry, just that they did not agree with GBAs project or the way it had proceeded through the approval process.
John Davis wondered why if the council thought the airport was worth a referendum this issue wasnt. "I find it abhorrent that this was hidden from the public until after the last municipal election," he said to cheers from the audience.
Dave Mcraie was even more vociferous in his indictment of the mayor and council members. He rhetorically asked, "I thought we were doing okay with the OCP?" He also questioned the departure of Brent Leigh from the office of economic development and wondered aloud if he had not been forced out as a result of clashing with council on the GBA issue.
Mcraie then asked Mayor Corrine Lonsdale if he could question council directly and ask if they though that this was the right thing to do. She reluctantly allowed him to do so.
Margaret Thornton answered for council saying, "it was staffs recommendation that we give a favourable recommendation to this zoning."
Mcraie thanked Thornton politely but added, "I guess we know where your bread is buttered."
It would not be the last criticism directed at Squamish town council that night, with speakers questioning council members connection to GBA logging and their possible bias. At one point, council members Bass and McGee were asked to step aside in any future vote, due to campaign donations made to them by GBA logging.