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AWARE wants largest unprotected wetlands preserved

Environmental group asks council to remove sites from housing study



Whistler’s environmental group is calling on the municipality to remove two privately owned potential development sites from its recent resident housing study.

The sites are part of the largest unprotected wetlands in Whistler, namely the Millar/Alpha Creek lands located north of Function Junction and bordered by the highway on the eastside, the railway line on the west side and Alta Lake Road to the north.

"It’s basic ecology," said Wendy Horan, president of AWARE.

"The larger the green space, the more bio-diversity you have, the healthier the system.... You can’t keep throwing developments into a wetlands area, even an upland area, and not expect it to impact – smart growth or no smart growth."

AWARE’s strong position on the wetlands is not a new one but has been reinforced after the recent study, entitled Comparative Evaluation of Potential Resident Housing Sites in Whistler, identified parts of the wetlands complex for possible development.

The study rated parts of the Alpha Creek lands as "good" for housing, identifying four potential nodes of development close to Highway 99, next to the wetlands.

The second site, the Prism property, is also located next to the wetlands to the north and rated "fair" in the housing study for potential development.

In a recent letter to the municipality, AWARE asked council to consider granting a PAN 1 designation over the whole area under the Protected Areas Network, effectively taking the lands out of any future discussions for resident housing.

Currently the municipality is working on the Protected Areas Network, which will preserve and protect special ecosystems in the valley. Horan said AWARE is leaning heavily on this strategy to get protection on the entire wetland complex, which totals more than 100 acres.

A PAN 1 designation would not allow any public or private developments on the land.

"What we’re asking for is completely inline with the Whistler Environmental Strategy," said Horan.

"You can’t talk the sustainability talk and still impact wetlands.

"Development and wetlands don’t go together."

Horan said AWARE has spent hours researching the potential impact any development next to the wetlands could have on the area.

Though the study calls for the development nodes to have the traditional 15 to 30 metres buffers from the wetland zone, AWARE said this is not enough.

The lands they say have the potential to provide critical valley bottom habitat and a green corridor for wildlife.

"There’s lots of things that we don’t know," admits Horan.

"We’ve always operated on a precautionary principle and what we’re saying is we simply don’t know what’s going to happen if we put something in there."