To burn or bury Whistler's waste? 

Council raises concerns about rezoning, praises vision of project

To burn Whistler's waste or to bury it - that was the latest question for council to consider when it comes to the town's garbage.

Developer Robert Scragg presented council with a revolutionary project Tuesday night that he said could burn all of the municipal waste in town and fuel a greenhouse and aquaponics facility with the energy from the garbage plant.

Though it sounds intriguing, with Councillor Tom Thomson calling it the vision of somebody looking forward, it may not be the details of the plans that are the first stumbling block.

To make it work, Scragg needs to have his land opposite the entrance to Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan rezoned from residential use to industrial use - a direction he said he was told to pursue by municipal staff five years ago.

That's where he found some resistance at the council table.

"I'm a little disappointed in our staff, frankly," Mayor Ken Melamed told Scragg after his presentation to council.

He said he wished staff had told Scragg in 2005 that Whistler did not want to expand its industrial uses, or its footprint down to the Callaghan Valley. That vision was clearly articulated in the Whistler2020 visioning process.

"I'm disappointed that staff bounced you this far down the road," he added.

Scragg presented his proposal at Tuesday's meeting where he detailed the uses for his 16-acre site.

In addition to the waste facility, the land would also be used for a greenhouse and aquaponics plant producing vegetables, herbs and fish, which would operate off the carbon dioxide produced by the waste facility.

"We're here to make our land usable to you and beneficial to us," he said.

But today that land is only zoned residential, enough for one single family home.

Councillor Eckhard Zeidler zeroed in on the fact that the land would be rezoned to industrial and the zoning forever tied to it. He compared it to the controversial London Drugs rezoning several years ago that would have changed zoning in the village but never guaranteed that London Drugs would have been the tenant in perpetuity. Council turned down that rezoning at the time.

"For all I know it could be an asphalt plant that goes on it... which wouldn't be a bad thing," said Zeidler.

"I'm always a little troubled when I have a piece of land that's going to deliver some kind of use rather than the other way around," he added.

It's not about whether it's a good idea, he said. Council, and the community, would have no say on it, once it's been rezoned.

The concept, however, piqued Councillor Chris Quinlan's interest. He had never heard of the proposal before in any context and he highlighted the potential savings in dealing with Whistler's waste in town. Scragg estimates savings of $600,000 over the current option, which sees Whistler transport its garbage via truck and rail to a landfill in Washington State. There could also be a reduced carbon footprint.

Mayor Melamed said waste management in the region has been discussed in detail, and fully explored, including gasification of waste.

"When I read it (the report), it sounded too good to be true," he said.

"It makes me suspicious just off the bat."

In the end the proposal was referred to staff.

"I'm looking for clarity on what it is that staff directs applicants to do," said Quinlan.

After the meeting Scragg in an email said: "I was encouraged by the supportive comments and words I heard, both in the council chamber and subsequently, from two and possibly three, of the councilors (sic).

"We have significant money and time invested in this vision and over 20 years of time and capital invested in the land and along with a significant budget invested to make the land ready for use."



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