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AWARE asks for more study of Callaghan trails

VANOC’s update shows commitment to environment



By Alison Taylor

Whistler’s environmental watchdog is appealing to Olympic organizers to spend more time planning and reviewing the impacts of the recreation trails in the Callaghan Valley.

At its last board meeting in mid-October, directors of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) unanimously passed a motion to write to Olympic organizers suggesting they hold off construction of the recreation trails that could be added to the Nordic centre until 2008 — one year later than is currently anticipated.

“What we’re not interested in… is a quick environmental review,” said AWARE board member Al Whitney.

He is hopeful, particularly after Monday’s community update from the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games, AWARE’s concerns will resonate in the organization. That update had a strong focus on VANOC’s environmental initiatives, said Whitney, which speaks to a commitment to doing the right thing for the environment.

“I would say that the environment, environmentalism and environmental action took at least an hour and a half of (the two and half hour meeting). That impressed me,” said Whitney.

“As I’m saying to my colleagues (in AWARE) right now, I’d far rather deal with an organization that’s got a director of sustainability who’s a vice president, and for every one of their committees they have to make some environmental justifications, than deal with a corporation that basically doesn’t have any of that.”

Concerns about the environmental impacts of recreation trails in the Callaghan came to head recently after a provincial government study found evidence of four resident grizzly bears in the area.

VANOC has completed a preliminary design plan for roughly 20 to 25 kilometres of recreational trails in the Madley drainage, directly north of the Nordic centre. The trails will not be used for Olympic competition but are considered necessary to make the Nordic centre economically viable after the Games.

That trail plan is going to the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for review this fall.

“Once you start to overlay the concerns and the issues that are raised in the process like that, that might change the trail design, as it has in the past,” said VANOC’s director of environmental approvals George McKay.

VANOC’s plans originally called for 100 kilometres of trails in the Callaghan but that has since been scaled back.

Still, McKay hopes to have community consultation for the latest plan in the winter and a decision from the federal environmental agency by March/April. This would allow trail construction in June 2007.

He said the recreational trails are designed to complement the existing Olympic facilities at the Whistler Nordic Centre including the 14 kilometres of advanced cross-country trails that are being built for the 2010 Olympic Games. They will offer a more intermediate product for local and destination cross-country skiers.

“The recreation trails are an example of how to operate the Nordic Centre on a viable basis going into the future,” said McKay.

“This is part of how to utilize the day lodge, the parking lots, the infrastructure that’s being developed for the Nordic Centre for the Games period.”

The centre and the trails are part of Whistler’s Olympic legacies, to be managed by the Whistler Legacies Society. That society has yet to be formed but it will be responsible for the ongoing operations of the Nordic centre, the Whistler Sliding Centre and the athletes’ centre post 2010. The facilities will be supported by a $110 million endowment fund.

Potential members of the society include Whistler, First Nations, the provincial and federal governments and the Canadian Olympic Committee.

“We’ve been doing a little bit of work in terms of trying to address what we anticipate would be the issues that those partners would want to address before they make a decision to join the Whistler Legacies Society,” said McKay.

“Hopefully, in the next few months, we’re going to bring a lot of that draft information together and have the members make a decision about whether they want to belong.”

Work on the legacies society will happen concurrently with the environmental review of the Callaghan recreation trails.

Mayor Ken Melamed said he is looking forward to full community consultation regarding the business plan for the Callaghan.

“Council hasn’t taken a position one way or the other except to say that they are concerned about mitigation plans for the grizzlies,” he said.

“We don’t want to get into a situation where it’s a fait accompli and we don’t have a say, especially since the legacies society isn’t formed.”

AWARE’s board of directors also passed a motion last month stating if the environmental review proves the legacy trails impact the existing grizzly bear population that they then only be open in the wintertime when the bears are hibernating.