Cheakamus residents organizing into political force 

Cheakamus residents are massing into a vocal political force in their bid to run an asphalt plant out of Whistler.

A cacophonous meeting at the Hilton Whistler Resort and Spa saw just over 20 residents gather to provide feedback and ideas how to move forward with their plan.

The meeting was led by Tim Koshul, who presided over a buzzing room of future residents at Cheakamus Crossing who feel they've been "lied to and betrayed" by the municipality because it has plunked a neighbourhood of employee housing near an asphalt plant.

All residents were informed of the plant when they signed disclosure statements, but they were also told that Whistler council was looking at options for moving it.

Among other things, the group has obtained a series of documents that indicate staff at the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) haven't always been keen on allowing an asphalt plant in their midst.

The documents included minutes from a meeting of the Advisory Planning Commission (APC), which used to advise council on land use and zoning bylaws.

Discussing a 1998 attempt by Sabre Transport Ltd. to obtain zoning that would allow asphalt and concrete plants on a land tenure it held in the Cheakamus area, commission members were cool to the idea, saying that Whistler's Official Community Plan was drawn up to encourage "clean" industries and that asphalt and concrete production were "questionable" in a resort setting.

Other memos obtained by the group include an email from Planning Technician Chris Bishop to Sandra Smith, who now works in the municipality's bylaws department. It warned that Sabre didn't get much support at the APC and that it could try to operate concrete and asphalt plants illegally.

The memos appear to contradict a legal opinion obtained by the RMOW, which states among other things that the plant's operator, Frank Silveri, would have a strong case in court if he were asked to move.

Aside from weighing these documents, the group is also looking to rebrand itself. They're loosely known as NAP, an acronym for "No Asphalt Plant" and a reference to the idea that they believe someone at the RMOW was "napping" when they allowed to asphalt plant to operate at the site.

One option they're considering is Whistler Air Quality Advocates, or WAQA for short. That was the most popular suggestion at the Thursday meeting but the group didn't settle on anything by the time it was over.

The central aim of the group is to stop the asphalt plant from running in Whistler but there's also an appetite among some members to eliminate all heavy industry within the community. Others, however, argued that the group should narrow its focus.

Beyond a debate about its name and mission, the group discussed other steps they could take to stop the asphalt plant from operating. The group may contract a lawyer to serve the municipality with a Letter of Intent stating that the asphalt plant does not have a right to operate in Whistler, but that could cost them about $2,500.

Koshul told the meeting that he's contacted Ecojustice Canada, a non-profit environmental law firm that works to protect and strengthen environmental regulations. He added, however, that Ecojustice is busy working on issues around the oil sands and didn't have the resources to assist in the asphalt issue.

One of the last comments of the meeting came from future resident Sebastien Fremont, one of the more prominent voices advocating against the asphalt plant. He said there's a view in the municipality that Cheakamus residents are "just complaining" and that they "must change that perception."

"When I talk to a lot of people that bought into the athletes' village, when I talk to people that I work with, the view that is out there right now is that we are still just complaining," he said.

"It's great to be talking about lawyers and spending $2,500 but if we don't change that, we will always just be (seen as) the whiners in the dark corner."



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