RMOW takes first steps to investigate DES failures 

RFP's for two separate studies to be released in coming weeks

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The municipality is committed to getting to the root of the issues around the beleaguered District Energy System (DES) at Cheakamus Crossing, whether the problems have been created by homeowners or are systemic.

In a last-minute press conference, called Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 27, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) will invest in collecting a comprehensive database of information detailing the range of individual problems in the legacy neighbourhood "so that we can fully consider the issue, the responsibility for the various challenges, and understand the scope of the opportunities and the scope of the challenges."

This is in addition to the $45,000 DES study, which was abandoned by BC Hydro last year only to be taken on by the RMOW. This study is looking at the life-cycle costs of the system and its efficiency, among other things. It was also to produce an easy "how-to" manual on operating the system.

"Because the information is so varied, it's difficult to make sense of it," said Wilhelm-Morden, of the "hodge-podge" list of complaints around maintenance, warranty, costs and the lack of help.

"It's a whole range of issues," she said.

Though residents have been living in Cheakamus for more than four years since the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the municipality is just now taking steps in part because the system was under warranty for two years in some cases and also because complaints are getting louder and more frequent.

"There's been more numerous complaints, more recently," admitted the mayor, pointing to a recent neighbourhood survey.

"We take these concerns very seriously."

Resident Erica Finnsson championed that recent survey; it outlines the extent of the concerns from some in the neighbourhood.

Of the 85 people who answered from a total of 174 units with a similar system, 80 per cent were not satisfied with the system, and 25 per cent have spent between $1,000 and $2,000 in repairs, some more and some less. Many of the comments in the survey also pointed to concerns from owners who are worried that their system is going to fail too, though they have yet to see problems.

"I think it's fantastic," said Finnsson when she heard Tuesday of the action council is proposing.

"I knew deep down that they would come around," she said.

The president of the Whistler Development Corporation, the municipal subsidiary responsible for building the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood, is not convinced that there is a systemic problem in the DES.

Eric Martin, who was also at Tuesday's press conference, points to the success of the complex and delicate system while it was under WDC's control for a year — before, during and in the months following the 2010 Games.

He also pointed out that some buildings, like the multi-family buildings, have had no problems from the system, which takes ambient heat from treated wastewater and sends it to insulated underground pipes to heat pumps in each building.

"Part of the reason I expect is they had regular maintenance, regular monitoring, professional maintenance, and it's all done uniformly," said Martin, the former vice-president of Bosa Development Corporation who donated his expertise to build the Cheakamus neighbourhood.

It's not just maintenance; homeowners too may have tried to fix a very complex system themselves, which could have created problems, or they called in unqualified techs to do the work.

"I think people's tendency is to monkey-wrench it sometimes, and a lot of them did and I know that for a fact," he added.

Finnsson disagrees: "I think they're wrong.

"We're not in there meddling with our systems. It just isn't happening."

These are the polarizing issues the municipality is keen to tackle through its new plan of attack — collecting factual information to get to the heart of the problems.

What happens once the municipality is armed with that information is another story altogether.

The mayor said: "I can't say right now ultimately what the recommendations are going to be, or what our decisions might be, because it will depend on the data and the evidence we might collect."

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