Focus on solution to dealing with asphalt plant 

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The question today for many residents of the Cheakamus neighbourhood is: what now?

After months of waiting, a B.C. Supreme Court ruling has found that Frank Silveri's aggregates business is allowed to manufacture asphalt onsite even if the aggregates used are brought in from elsewhere.

In the end it appears the decision in part came down to the definition of the word "manufacture." The RMOW argued in part that the IP1 zoning bylaw was being violated because only aggregates and gravel can be manufactured at the Cheakamus site, not asphalt.

But, said Justice Deborah Kloegman: "With respect, this cannot be the case because gravel and aggregates cannot be 'manufactured.' They can be processed, i.e., split, crushed, washed and sorted, but gravel and aggregates are raw materials extracted from the ground. They can be manufactured into something else, but they are not a manufacturable commodity in and of themselves."

That is the nature of law: it looks at definitions, case law, it looks at "...bylaw(s) in their grammatical and ordinary sense..."

What it can't do at this stage is look at the people affected. It can't consider the quality of life for those living in the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood, nor does it really consider other forces at play in the drama of the on-going community battle.

I don't think we can escape the fact that some councillors may have used this issue for their own reasons as we drew closer to an election last November.

That none of them are now sitting around the table perhaps speaks to the success of such a strategy.

There is little doubt that this was an election issue, though it was never entirely clear what solution might be put forward in the event the RMOW's injunction failed.

Before her election, mayor Nancy Wilhelm Morden said publicly that one solution might be for Silveri to move his plant. More than once she alluded to the fact that Silveri owns a quarry north of Whistler and that the rock crusher and asphalt plant are portable.

She was also of the opinion that, "there's ample evidence that Mr. Silveri knew or ought to have known asphalt manufacturing was not permitted in the IP1 zone, despite certain municipal officials protestations to the contrary."

And Wilhelm Morden described it as a fundamental principal that industrial uses should be moved away from neighbourhoods. Silveri, however, has told Pique that he intends to continue to operate at the Cheakamus site.

At press deadline Whistler's mayor had no comment, but with the above statements on the record it's likely the community will see movement on the issue soon.

The Cheakamus Facebook site already has community members calling for a meeting to discuss strategies to deal with the ruling, and presumably a busy spring and summer operation of the plant. It doesn't sound like Silveri's commitment to put a $2 million equipment upgrade in place is soothing tempers. Some residents are already considering selling.

That's got to be a concern for the RMOW as it continues to work toward lowering the multi-million dollar debt it owes on the neighbourhood.

"(One hundred) homes with for sale signs will also bring media attention!" states one Facebook post. Another says, "I think this is a set back but clarifies a big portion of the overall fight. We can now forget zoning and look at nuisance, emissions, (and) public safety..."

For months and months, former RMOW CAO Bill Barratt said publicly that this was not a battle that would be won in court in favour of the Cheakamus residents. At least three sitting at the pre-election council table agreed with him. The issue of how much this court case would cost, while raised in discussion, seemed to be bypassed in favour of principles. I'm not arguing against this stand, but it is nevertheless a fact that Whistler taxpayers now have another bill to pay.

I must point out however, that through this questioning it came to light publicly that the tendering process was flawed and it resulted in a rate more favourable to the RMOW when it came to paying for asphalt. The illumination of the process, one hopes, also means that future tendering is done with a sharp pencil.

There is no escaping that Silveri's operations pre-dated the Cheakamus neighbourhood, and that it was through community consultation that the Cheakamus neighbourhood was chosen as the site of the 2010 Olympic Athlete's Village over a location in the Callaghan.

But arguing over what has passed is now simply academic. Current council needs to step away from the rhetoric and look at reasonable solutions. Perhaps that means talking with Silveri and exploring options.

Will there be costs associated with this? Perhaps. But at stake is one of our community's greatest legacies and assets. It is not only a community, it is a park, it will soon boast a community garden, it hosts travellers from all over the world in our hostel, and athletes from around the globe in the athlete's centre.

Let's focus on the positive moving forward. For now it's time to stop pointing fingers and find a solution that works for the community ... Hopefully before we are packing our beach bags for a dip in the lake.


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