Editorial 

Cheakamus Crossing may be the answer to Cheakamus Crossing’s problem

Whistler council, and by extension Whistler taxpayers, are facing some tough financial questions this spring.

The Olympic cash spigot has been turned off. There is no more money from senior governments or VANOC for arts programs, festivals, construction projects or plugging the little gaps that needed to be plugged in order to make the Olympics run as well as they did. Whistler is, understandably, on its own for its $96,000 post-Olympic-Canada Day-Fourth of July party. And faced with the third significant property tax increase in three years - and another one promised next year - some taxpayers are objecting to spending money on another party.

Council itself is not unanimously behind the post-Olympic celebration. Councillors Grant Lamont and Tom Thomson each pre-empted council's final decision on the celebration by announcing their opposition, which they should rightfully do if they feel that strongly about it. There are seven members of council so that there are seven voices, rather than one.

However, both councillors supported the budget that included setting aside money for a post-Olympic party and both decided to raise their objections publicly before the scope and cost of the party had been finalized.

Nevertheless, $96,000 is not chump change. That money would go a long way for organizations like WAG, the museum and archives society, the arts council or others that rely on municipal grants and fee-for-service contracts.

And the cumulative impact of municipal spending decisions should not be overlooked - $96,000 for the post-Olympic party, $300,000 for website redevelopment, $650,000 for Olympic volunteers and staff engagement, it adds up quickly.

But the RMOW, and taxpayers, are dealing with a $47 million budget and there are lots of expenses that should be scrutinized. Three-quarters of a million dollars to extend the Valley Trail from Spring Creek to Cheakamus Crossing, for instance. This is infrastructure taxpayers are on the hook for because it wasn't required of Intrawest when the council of the day (barely) approved the Spring Creek, Creekside and Kadenwood developments in one massive take-it-or-leave-it development permit agreement. The bridge needed to connect Millar's Pond to Creekside was also left out of that agreement.

That's history. What's facing the municipality, and taxpayers, now that wasn't on the radar six months ago when the current budget was being drafted are two potential expenses significantly greater than the post-Olympic party: moving the asphalt plant from the Cheakamus Crossing area and settling the Rainbow expropriation suit.

The municipality has now appealed the Supreme Court's decision that Whistler underpaid the Saxton family for the Rainbow lands back in 1987. The court decided Whistler owed the Saxtons $1 million plus interest. It will take some more time, and money, to settle this matter. How much is anyone's guess but the municipality should know, from years of protracted negotiations with the Saxtons, what it is they are after. It's believed land for a couple of houses in Whistler is more important to them than money.

Meanwhile, the asphalt plant is a million-dollar or multi-million-dollar problem, according to a report to council. It would cost about $1 million to upgrade the emission standards of the plant and it would cost $1 million-$2 million to move the plant. That's a steep price to move a "temporary" asphalt plant.

The financial solution to both the Saxton and asphalt plant issues could be in creating some additional market-value lots in Cheakamus Crossing. The ability to create additional lots, to subsidize the final cost of Cheakamus Crossing or something else, is one of the beauties of the deal that saw the province turn over 300 acres to the municipality in exchange for hosting the Olympics. However, there probably wouldn't be much interest in those lots unless the asphalt plant is moved.

If additional market lots at Cheakamus are the answer to the financial side of the asphalt plant problem, the real question becomes where can it be moved that is not going to upset someone else and still be economically viable to the owner?

The debate at Tuesday's council meeting seemed to focus more on details than the broader questions of where the plant could be moved and who would pay for the move. The answers to those questions will involve more than just the municipality and the Cheakamus Crossing owners.

 

 

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