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Whistler asked to answer questions over "unfair tendering"

Asphalt trucked from Squamish to pave courts at Cheakamus
Frank Silveri, owner of Whistler's only asphalt plant

The president of the B.C. Road Builders & Heavy Construction Association said Whistler could be engaging in unfair tendering practices when it comes to its municipal roadwork contracts.

After a complaint by one of its members — Frank Silveri of Alpine Paving, based in Whistler — president Jack Davidson wrote to the mayor and council last week asking for clarification on the matter.

He didn't mince his words in a subsequent interview when asked to explain the reasons for his May 14 letter.

"We are fully supportive of open, fair tendering and this appears to be the slippery slope towards... corruption and kickback," Davidson said this week before the letter was brought before council at Tuesday's meeting.

Specifically, he points to the requirement put in place last year that states any asphalt for municipal contracts must be manufactured three kilometres away from residential developments in Whistler, effectively cutting off Silveri's plant at the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood — the only plant in Whistler and where the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has sourced its asphalt since 1989.

Silveri was awarded the municipal contract last year from his Squamish plant, at a $50,000 premium to taxpayers.

Davidson explained that when there are specifics that eliminate people from contracts then those same specifics could allow friends and family and others to win contracts.

"You're open to graft and dishonesty," he said.

"You're selecting who's going to win before the contest starts and that's how communities get in trouble with elected and non-elected officials doing favours for people."

He has asked for clarity on this decision that he said may have been made to the disadvantage of one contractor and requested a meeting with mayor and council.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden called the letter "argumentative," adding that some of the points are in contention.

"There are two sides to every story," she said. "My sense of it is that we should receive (the letter) and file it.

"In some respects I think this organization is acting outside of its mandate."

Frank Silveri, meanwhile, is flabbergasted that people in Whistler aren't up in arms about the tendering specifications.

Put yourself in his shoes, he said.

"Do you feel that a council can automatically get a legitimate business and sterilize them like this?" Silveri asked.

"I don't know how you can accept stuff like this."

What if it was a tire store, or a gas station, or a log homebuilder that the municipality wanted to shut down? Silveri said: "That's just not fair."

Never mind the cost to taxpayers he added.

He points to his latest contract to pave the tennis courts at Bayly Park. The asphalt is trucked 50 kilometres from his Squamish plant rather than less than a kilometre from the Whistler plant.

"And the taxpayer, you too are paying for this," he said.

Davidson said the road builders association has some options at its disposal if it believes the tendering at the RMOW is unfair, including buying advertising to let taxpayers know what it's costing to have non-open transparent tendering and contacting the provincial government to talk about provincial funds going to local governments that don't tender openly.

Davidson's May 14 letter was copied to several provincial ministers including the minister of labour, citizen's services and open government.

"I'm not defending him (Silveri specifically)," said Davidson. "I'm defending the principle of open, fair, transparent tendering."

And while Wilhelm-Morden said she wasn't particularly interested in meeting with the association, she said: "Certainly we would love to find amicable solution with the asphalt plant in the municipality but I don't know that we necessarily need to meet with these people to do that."