Homeowners lukewarm on disconnecting DES 

Possibility of legal action remains on the table

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - OPTING OUT Opinions were mixed in Cheakamus Crossing over council's recent decision to allow homeowners to disconnect from the District Energy System — at their own cost.
  • File photo
  • OPTING OUT Opinions were mixed in Cheakamus Crossing over council's recent decision to allow homeowners to disconnect from the District Energy System — at their own cost.

For the Cheakamus Crossing homeowners who have spent thousands of dollars to maintain and repair their heating units, the option to disconnect from the controversial District Energy System (DES) must have felt like a long overdue relief.

But the full cost of replacing the ambient heating system shouldn't fall on homeowners, according to Cheakamus residents Pique spoke with.

"I think the muni's just spending money absolutely stupidly trying to fix this system when they should be thinking about some sort of budget to replace it for everybody," said Peter Dagg, who claims he has spent roughly $3,500 on his heating unit in The Riverbend since moving in five years ago.

Earlier this month, Whistler council greenlit a proposal to offer homeowners the chance to begin the process of disconnecting from the DES, with the caveat that the cost of replacing their system — which would likely hit the five-digit mark, by most estimates — would fall on owners. Cheakamus property owners are responsible for maintaining and repairing their individual units, with the RMOW ensuring that sewage heat from Whistler's Wastewater Treatment Plant is properly diverted to the DES pipe system, and that DES equipment within the plants operates correctly.

But the argument from homeowners that have already spent significant amounts on their unit is that they shouldn't have to pay to replace a system that hasn't worked effectively since Day 1 and was touted as an energy-efficient heating method that would cut down on costs.

"This does not address all the money people have spent, it does not address all the money you would have to spend to (replace the system)," said Tony Routley, neighbourhood appointee to the Cheakamus volunteer committee. "Right now, I don't think they're dealing with it equitably at all."

At the Oct. 3 council meeting, Coun. Jack Crompton acknowledged the challenges some in Cheakamus have faced and said he'd like to see the municipality explore low-interest financing options for residents who choose to opt out.

For some, staying on the DES is the only recourse as another winter approaches.

"I am still hoping that the RMOW takes responsibility and will pay for a new system to be put in, but in the event that they do not, I will have to pay for it myself as I can't bear the thought of being cold all winter in my own home," said Suzanne Adamson.

For others, disconnecting from the DES can't come soon enough.

"What I like about this option is at least we're not being taken hostage anymore to keep paying a DES fee ... and relying on a system that's not reliable," said Denis Ebacher, who claimed he has spent $4,500 on his system so far.

Residents also took issue with Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey's comments at the council meeting that it was up to homeowners to "do their due diligence" to understand how they heating system works, a system that even certified technicians have struggled to comprehend.

"My biggest issue is that Mike Furey continues to insult homeowners by declaring that we are the problem because we are not being responsible homeowners," said Kelly Bone. "I am a second buyer, but any first owner will tell you they did not receive a maintenance manual which WDC (municipal subsidiary Whistler Development Corp.) is insisting they provided, but cannot provide any proof of."

None of the original homeowners Pique questioned said they had ever received a DES operating manual upon move-in.

This was reiterated in a WDC-commissioned report last year in which Integral Group engineer and author Ken Newbert said he was "disappointed" that no operating or maintenance manuals were provided. Last year, the RMOW finally released a quick reference and technical service guide, leaving residents wondering why it had taken so long.

Relief did come last October when council voted to lend WDC $350,000 to carry out repairs on individual units requiring it, giving homeowners' with more significant problems the option of having half of their repair costs covered up to $1,000. That phase of work was recently extended until May. Even so, Routley said legal action remains on the table for Cheakamus residents.

"If the muni isn't going to work with us, and tells us that we're on our own, that's put the cost squarely back on us to do whatever we have to do. If we have no help to do that, then I think (legal action) is a more viable option than it's ever been," he said.

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