RMOW to adopt crucial search and rescue tower 

Commenters raise concerns at Whistler council

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - New tower Whistler SAR head Brad Sills spoke to council about search and rescue's needs.
  • File photo
  • New tower Whistler SAR head Brad Sills spoke to council about search and rescue's needs.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is looking to adopt a key piece of infrastructure for Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) operations.

The Gin Peak repeater site in the Callaghan Valley was built by the provincial government for the 2010 Olympic Games, and has since become crucial to WSAR's communications south of Whistler.

"We took it over shortly thereafter and have used it to increase our communications capacity, mostly in the area south of Whistler — Powder Mountain, Callaghan Valley — but it has also been greatly beneficial up the Cheakamus Valley and over towards Black Tusk," said WSAR manager Brad Sills.

"So it's a critical piece of apparatus and we greatly applaud the municipality for taking this on for us."

With the provincial government no longer using it, the RMOW will submit a land tenure application for the site.

The RMOW will cover the application fee, rent for the site and hold the tenure, while WSAR will be responsible for maintenance, repairs and licensing costs.

But as offseason call volumes increase with increased visitation, the modest investment should be well worth it.

"We've had a fairly average call volume during the summer, but in September things have just kind of taken off," Sills said.

"September and October have traditionally been fairly quiet periods for us, and we've been out at least once a week all through September, and we were out again yesterday (Oct. 2) for a seriously injured mountain biker (on the Jaws trail off of Rainbow)."

The repeater site also provides a safety net for crews on missions.

Before the Olympics, crews responding to calls in those areas would have no way to communicate with home base.

"We would send crews in there and we would not hear from them until they had completed their mission, and if they didn't then we had no idea what was going on," Sills said.


The public discourse at Whistler council meetings is starting to pick up.

At the Oct. 4 council meeting, two different people took the podium to ask questions — a 100-per-cent increase over the previous meeting (and two more than the much more common zero).

Michael Mills of Emerald was the first to take the podium, with a question about access to the trails behind Emerald Drive.

"These trails, as everyone knows, are well received, and they're significant trails," Mills said.

"Has the RMOW initiated a process with the landowner to investigate ways to restore public access to these classic Whistler trails?"

Municipal chief administrative officer Mike Furey confirmed that, yes, the RMOW has started discussions, but noted the situation is challenging.

"The route that was being used was a utility right of way that the owner had every right to not allow people to access for non-municipal purposes," Furey said.

"So we've had some discussions with a number of property owners... we don't have a resolution at this time but we're certainly going to continue to pursue ways to get access back there."

The second question — or questions, rather — came from Wolfgang Lindemann, no address (Lindemann told council at its last meeting that he had been recently evicted).

Lindemann took the podium to ask several questions around affordable housing, as well as some deep questions about political responsibility.

"When will the CAO admit that the powers come from the people, and our collective wealth? Does the legislature pay his salary? When will the CAO stop making excuses in regards to seeing our resort arise to a level of success, as in a previous Pique article? Could this be simply a symptom of bad planning and a void of action?" Lindemann asked.

"How do we get rid of staff if they are impeding our democracy? What kind of (democracy) do we have, really? I ask this sincerely. Do we have the kind of democracy whereby the governing body listens to the people first, to foster the social wellbeing of the people?"

Lindemann asked when council will ask the people what they want for interim housing, when they'll invite academics from comer.org to discuss economic reform, and when they'll create policy to ensure funding for affordable housing.

"So I ask, dear mayor, council, staff. Do you hear me? I'm one of the people. Do you hear us? The people behind me? Last meeting there was only one, and it was me," Lindemann said.

"When will you listen with massive, excited energy, knowing that you are so talented and capable to implement new policy for our wellbeing, for our highest good, for all?

"We are waiting for your reply, and we are waiting for your best actions."

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said she would be happy to embark on a philosophical debate about political systems in a different forum, suggesting Lindemann set up a meeting with her at municipal hall, before responding to the housing questions.

"This council and previous councils have been committed to housing of one kind or another since the mid 1990s," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"It's been an issue that's been in front of councils over the years, and we take it very seriously and we have achieved some very good results. There's more to do."

(See related story on page 12).


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