Letters to the Editor for the week of March 5th 

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Thank you to our local healthcare professionals

After returning from a trip to Japan, I developed symptoms that raised some concern, as Hokkaido (my destination) had since declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19.

I cancelled work, stayed home and waited 24 hours before the B.C. nurse line advised me to call a clinic, and Whistler Medical Clinic directed me to talk to someone at the emergency room (ER).

The woman I spoke with gave me protocol for arriving (such as donning a mask and using the sanitizing gel they provided) in order to protect others, and then finished the conversation by saying "You are welcome here, we will take good care of you." 

Deep sigh.

It felt like a very generous thing for her to say in a small ER that is often under pressure. The doctor who attended me to administer the test was also outstanding.

Fortunately, the test proved negative. But it was a key public-health action to conduct it on a patient of concern, and I was thankful for their thorough assessment to make sure I was one of those.

Global News reported that as of Friday, Feb. 28, British Columbia had tested more patients for COVID-19 than the entire United States, and stories are already emerging about how the anticipated cost of hospital stays down south are delaying people from being tested (even though the testing is free, the associated costs are not). 

We are fortunate to have both the health care system we do, and the extremely professional people who run it. 

Asta Kovanen // Whistler

Higher pay parking rates sends right message

Self-declared "transit-skeptic" councillor Ralph Forsyth declares, "the community really hates it" when the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) proposes parking fee increases.

Do Whistler homeowners enjoy property tax increases?

We are not consulted when they go up, so why do timid politicians feel obliged to seek public input before adjusting parking fees? They should simply proceed with the necessary measure.

This is 2020. Motorists have now had 20 years to voluntarily decrease car trips, but instead, Whistler is more congested than ever, with both locals and visitors contributing more and more to the greenhouse gases that are melting our glaciers, frying our forests and turning snow to rain.

Human behaviour invariably defaults to the cheapest and most convenient option.

It is the RMOW's responsibility to provide adequate price signals to ensure that single-occupancy motoring is no longer the automatic choice to get from A to B.

Thomas DeMarco // Whistler

Take sensible precautions

I was just getting ready to drive to Vancouver to attend the BC Bike Show, Western Canada's largest cycling show, a two-day event taking place at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

However, shortly after 10:15 a.m. on Feb. 29, The New York Times announced that a male high school student in King County, on the north side of Seattle, had just died from coronavirus (COVID-19), the first American to do so, and one of four cases diagnosed overnight in Washington, Oregon, and California. 

None of these four individuals had travelled to China, where the first mass outbreak occurred, or have been in contact with anyone travelling to any areas of the world where this virus is running rampant, including South Korea, northern Italy, Iran, etc.

At this point, this virus has rapidly spread around the world to almost 60 countries on every continent except Antarctica—and in South Korea alone, overnight on the 29th, the number of diagnosed cases of coronavirus increased by one third, with 813 new cases. Worldwide, the number of cases [at the time of writing] is now more than [90,000].

Although not yet officially designated as a pandemic by the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S., it is obvious that the rapid spread of this coronavirus meets every known definition of the word "pandemic." 

Obviously, the genie is out of the bottle.   

In our Whistler bubble, we are not immune and it is highly unlikely that we will escape from infection. We are all aware that Whistler hosts more than 3 million visitors a year from all over the world, and we are also aware that Washington state license plates are everywhere in Whistler.

In the Whistler Marketplace parking area, it is not unusual to see one vehicle in three from Washington state, and we have almost become a suburb of Seattle, with its 2019 metro population of 3,867,000. Vehicles from Alberta, Oregon, and elsewhere are also a common sight here.

Medical experts advise avoiding places where large numbers of people congregate.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia cancelled Friday prayers—almost unheard of—and there will be no pilgrimages to Mecca or other holy sites in the country this year. And Geneva, Switzerland has just announced the cancellation of the largest annual automobile show in the world.

Now that we have this virus on our doorstep, it is time to wake up and smell the coffee. Clearly, an optional trip to a bike show—where one will mingle with crowds in close quarters—is not an essential priority, and I cancelled my plan to go to this year's BC Bike Show to see the latest in electric bikes.

While we should not panic and immediately rush out to buy a face mask, a prudent individual should follow the consistent advice of the world's top health authorities: avoid crowds, wash hands frequently with soap and water, cough or sneeze into a handkerchief, and immediately distance yourself from others who may be coughing or sneezing. If you develop a fever associated with a dry cough, contact your doctor or the nearest medical clinic.

We are in territoire inconnu (unchartered territory). The fact that people who have tested positive may have no coronavirus symptoms might make us all wonder if we should stop routine hand shaking or even giving our friends a big hug...at least until a vaccine has been developed, tested, and approved—likely more than a year away.

Doug Garnett // Whistler

Access to Canada's premier kiteboarding destination under threat

Canada is on the brink of losing a world-class recreational amenity, which serves as a training ground for Olympians while attracting athletes and tourists from around the globe.

Two years ago, West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones stood on the southern tip of Squamish's training dike for a big announcement. She handed over a $1.5-million cheque to the Squamish River Watershed Society (SRWS). The money was the first portion of a $5-million multi-phased plan that included a proposal to remove a kilometre of dike that sits between the Squamish River and estuary.

The concept is noble. In theory, eliminating the chunk of road may aid salmon fry in reaching the safe haven of the estuary before being shot out into the ocean, which would up their survival rate. At the big announcement that spring day were representatives from Squamish Terminals, Squamish Nation and the District of Squamish. Missing were representatives from windsports, watersports, and other recreational users of the area.

This was the first sign of lost opportunity. The first sign of the lack of understanding elected officials have in regard to the importance of this unique location, which guarantees thermal winds on most summer days—a rare natural commodity that, if in existence, is capitalized by other communities such as Oregon's Hood River.

The spot on which officials stood to unveil their plan, locally known as the Squamish Spit, hosted approximately 7,000 windsports users last summer—a figure that doesn't include the countless numbers of visitors.

The Spit also plays home to Canada's national kiteboarding freestyle championship —KiteClash. The event attracts some of the world's best athletes, including five-time world kiteboarding champion Aaron Hadlow.

Beyond that, the destination encourages tourists passing through Squamish to stop a while and check out the colourful kites on the water—a sight that is used repeatedly in marketing by the District of Squamish, Tourism Squamish, the provincial and federal governments and local businesses.

Working together, a wide range of ideas could have been explored that would have saved water access and accommodated the fry's seaward migration—a pier, a pedestrian bridge or perhaps a new recreational area at the end of a shortened dike.

Some politicians assume water and windsports enthusiasts' requirements will be met by the proposed sports beach at Newport. This is not the case. The plan barely accommodates the kiteboarders and windsurfers currently accessing the water in that area.

If the current windsports users from the Spit were to move to Newport, the approximately 80-metre-wide park would also have to support a minimum of 200 extra athletes. Now add to that the increased boat traffic to the Mamquam Blind Channel, the possibility of future floatplanes and industrial activities at the adjacent log sort and one has all ingredients for a safety hazard.

A world-class recreational amenity is being removed with no real acknowledgement from the government or funding in place to come up with a workable solution.

West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy podiumed the importance of recreation in the Sea to Sky corridor, including kiteboarding, in his re-election bid. In front of provincial representatives in British Columbia's parliament buildings, Sturdy attested to the sport's value to the area. User groups need more than words. All options moving forward require money and government backing in order to maintain water access.

The lack of an inclusive process and project's hurried funding timeline has left windsports users sidelined, unknowing of what they can fundraise for or ask of officials.

They sit as an underutilized resource, silenced. Squamish claims to be the "Outdoor Capital of Canada," yet we are set to lose a recreational amenity that pays tribute to its very name—Mother of Wind.

Rebecca Aldous // Squamish 

Invest in an EV car

Unless you also believe the world is flat, there's no denying we are in the midst of a climate change emergency.

Protesting and signing petitions can show you care, but it's not going to get us out of this mess, plus it's divisive. Our best bet is to change our habits and make choices that will force the government and businesses to change their models.

Lessening our dependence on oil for transportation can make a substantial difference and can be done quite easily. Walking and cycling are of course the best, but only if you work close to home. Transit and carpooling are great options in urban areas and more should be done to promote them.

Unfortunately, many people commute long distances from the suburbs and the outskirts as our planning models have been based on the automobile. The easy solution? Electric vehicles! 

The prices, the technology and the infrastructure are finally at the point where everyone who is shopping for a new vehicle should consider one.

Do the math: it's possible to pay off your vehicle in fuel and maintenance savings. Our family recently purchased a pre-owned model and are very happy with it. A few sacrifices will have to be made, but the benefits far outweigh the hassles.

If you travel in mostly rural areas over super long distances, and are always rushed, maybe a hybrid is best for now. The point, however, is to ditch the internal combustion engine for good.

Think about it: clean fuel at what is the equivalent to 10 to 15 cents a litre (many charging stations are free), no more oil changes, leaky rads, gaskets, spark plugs, injectors, fuel filters, carburetors, rotting exhaust systems, noise and of course pollution.

Even the brakes last longer and your battery charges when you use them or go downhill. They are quick, responsive and fun to drive

An unexpected benefit is that we feel it's actually enhanced our life, slowing us down and appreciating the time it takes to charge, seeing new places, taking walks and going to cafes and restaurants we may not have before. Chatting with other EV owners at the stations, about their experience, and none so far have any regrets.

The government is currently offering huge rebates both federally and provincially that can be up to $8,000 and they will give you from $3,000 to $6,000 for your old gas guzzler. They will even cover the cost of a $1,000 home charger.

I believe this shift could actually boost our economy. People will travel more regionally and frequent businesses with or near chargers. If you build it they will come.

People will have more time and be more willing to spend the money they've saved on gas. Everyone can benefit while we reduce our carbon footprint.

If it took about 10 years for the world to embrace smartphones there's no reason why a total phase out of gas engines (except perhaps industrial machinery) can't be achieved within a decade. We just have to make the choice. The market forces and government will adapt and we won't be fighting over pipelines and oil projects anymore because we won't need them.

Canada has the most freshwater in the world to create hydro-electricity, which makes us the most energy resource-rich nation.

Leave the fossil fuels in the ground where they belong, we've extracted too much already. 

Mike Roger // Birken

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