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Asphalt negotiations at a standstill

Mayor insists the issue has not moved to the bottom of council agenda



Talks to move Whistler's asphalt plant are at an impasse. Municipal negotiator Eric Martin said the initial timeline of trying to get the plant to move in the short-term has shifted to the mid- to long-term range, with a view of 2017. That's the year Whistler Aggregates' lease expires for the Crown land occupation.

In the meantime, there are no active negotiations taking place and the once promising talks have come to a standstill. "We at one time were looking at something fairly short-term...Now I think we're looking two to five years out in terms of what could happen," said Martin.

Negotiations have been on the backburner since council made a move this summer requiring any asphalt for the annual municipal roads contract to be made at least three kilometres away from a residential neighbourhood. That effectively cut out Silveri's Whistler plant.

And though he was still awarded the more than $600,000 tender — a budget on par with previous years — to truck in asphalt from his Squamish plant, he called the move "a slap in the mouth."

A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in early 2012 that the plant is legally zoned to operate where it has always operated.

"We're supposed to move forward and work together?" Silveri asked in disbelief back in August. "How can you negotiate with somebody when they cut you out like this?"

Silveri did not return the Pique's phone calls by deadline.

The two sides have not spoken since council's decision. "We haven't gone back to him at all," confirmed Martin.

When asked if she was disappointed that talks had broken down, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said: "Yes, of course I am." However, she stands by council's decision to buy asphalt from the Squamish plant.

Though complaints have taken a nosedive this year, in part because the plant has not been operating for the bulk of the summer and partly because of a $2 million upgrade, the mayor said the issue is still front-and-centre for council.

"We haven't pushed it to the back of the agenda," she insisted, adding that they will continue to monitor the issue. The 36-month timeframe in the Council Action Plan is still the goal.

Residents like Tim Koshul were shocked with that timeframe. Koshul this week echoed the mayor's disappointment in the stalled negotiations but said he has faith council will ultimately get the job done.

"The bottom line is, there still has to be a solution," he said. "Rome wasn't built over night. I guess Cheakamus won't be complete until... who knows when?"

The asphalt plant has a series of permits and licenses that allow it to operate on the edge of the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood. It has a 10-year permit from the provincial government to occupy the Crown land, in addition to a permit from the Ministry of Mines for gravel quarry. The Crown land lease is up in 2017.

A municipal fact sheet about the asphalt situation states: "The Crown generally renews leases unless there is a compelling reason, in their opinion, no to."

Koshul suggested residents could lobby the province against any renewal.

In other Cheakamus Crossing news, council will be considering a rezoning from the Whistler Development Corporation (WDC) for a parcel of land in the neighbourhood at Tuesday's meeting.

Martin, the WDC president and chair of the board, explained the rezoning as a "housekeeping" issue to allow greater flexibility on the small market development site close to The Heights.

Rather than only allowing single-family homes on the site, the rezoning would allow townhomes and duplexes, as well as employee housing.

With just $1.5 million outstanding on its $100 Municipal Finance Authority loan, the WDC is hoping to sell three remaining commercial units on site as well as some developed lots.

In addition to the $1.5 million MFA debt, WDC also owes $15 million to municipal reserves, which it will pay down after the MFA is paid back.

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