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AWARE concerned about B.C. Transit’s plans

Transit officials coming to Whistler Monday to explain their proposal

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A Whistler environmental advocacy group is calling on residents to speak out against B.C. Transit’s recently announced plans to build their new hydrogen fueling station and transit hub on top of a wetland near Nesters.

The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) issued a press release on Monday, Aug. 11 outlining their position that the wetland should not be touched.

“I am not sure if we will be able to prevent them, but at least if we can make people aware of what is happening, then hopefully they’ll have a better understanding of how people feel about it and that they just cannot do it without people having a say,” said Sara Jennings, president of AWARE.

“Hopefully we’ll have people contact them and let them know how they feel.”

AWARE’s reactions comes one week after B.C. Transit announced that it plans to build the new transit facility on a plot of land owned by B.C. Hydro. Steve New, senior vice president of B.C. Transit, said he was confident that B.C. Transit would be able to mitigate the environmental impact of the facility.

The Crown agency plans to redirect an unnamed creek on the property to create a new wetland-like environment and maintain the site’s connectivity with other wetlands in Whistler.

However AWARE is concerned that these mitigation measures will not be enough.

“The wetland in question is already threatened by a lot of development in the area, and we believe this is more reason to protect and enhance it, rather than destroy it,” Jennings said in the release.

“B.C. Transit has said that they will mitigate environmental impacts by re-creating the wetland, but scientists we have spoken to have stated that wetlands are difficult if not impossible to properly re-create and should be protected from construction in the first place.”

The land was identified as a red listed vegetation community by biologists at Cascade Environmental in 1999. But since the property is owned by B.C. Hydro, a Crown corporation, it is exempt from the municipality’s regulations, including its policy of protecting wetlands.

B.C. Transit officials have been communicating their plans to the municipality over the past few months and are scheduled to give a presentation on the project at the Aug. 18 council meeting. The municipality has also said that it supports B.C. Transit’s site selection.

Manuel Achadinha, president and CEO of B.C. Transit, stressed this week that the Crown agency wants to respect the values of the Whistler community.

“I respect the comments from the folks from AWARE and the community at large, and we want to be a respected member of the community as well as a valued member,” said Achadinha. “That is why I am coming up on Monday. We are not going to hide behind anything. We want to explain to the community exactly what we are doing.”

Achadinha said one thing he has noticed personally walking through the site is that over the years, heavy vehicles have driven up to the site and dumped snow in the area. This has smashed the culvert piping, preventing water from properly flowing through the site. Salt in the snow has probably also damaged the site’s original ecological value.

“I think when people see the drawings and what we are proposing to do, we are really trying to mitigate our footprint as much as possible,” he said.

“I know people say how the heck are you going to enhance the site when you are putting a whole lot of pavement down, and there is that challenge, no doubt. But it is also creating something for the community as well.”

Achadinha added that B.C. Transit aims to make the new bus hub a LEED Gold standard building.

B.C. Transit has been looking for a new location for its bus facility since September 2007, when it was announced that Whistler would receive 20 state of the art hydrogen fuel cell buses in 2009. The current facility in Function Junction is not large enough to accommodate the new buses.

The municipality has also been concerned with the dead-head costs and extra emissions associated with a transit facility that is not centrally located in Whistler.

“I think the idea here is when the world comes in 2010 to show just how environmentally responsible the community of Whistler is,” said Achadinha.

But Steve Bayly, co-owner of an adjacent site, which was also considered by B.C. Transit for the facility, said he is concerned with the environmental impact the facility could have on the wetland.

“It is a shame that B.C. Transit did not give consideration to the wetlands and did not look meaningfully at any alternatives,” said Bayly.

Bayly and partner Nigel Woods also own the land were the current transit facility in Function Junction is located. Their lease with B.C. Transit expires in 2013, but Bayly said an agreement to end the contract earlier has already been worked out.

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