By Alison Taylor
Olympic organizers have been given the green light to build 25 kilometres of recreation legacy trails in the Callaghan Valley.
The approval was quietly posted on the provincial Environmental Assessment Office website this week, along with a series of commitments and assurances from the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games (VANOC).
The decision marks the end of months of public input to the process in which a range of concerns were raised, such as the impact the trails would have on grizzly bears and questions surrounding the long-term vision for the area after the Games.
The additional 25 km of trails will be added to the competition trails at the $119 million Whistler Nordic Centre. They are to be one of the legacies of the 2010 Games.
“I think there’s been a lot of opportunity for people to participate and express their points of view (during the EA process),” said George McKay, VANOC’s director of environmental approvals. “Given that it’s a relatively small project we thought that it got a lot of attention and we thought that we did a good job in terms of answering the questions that were raised in that process.”
As a result of the EA process, VANOC has committed $100,000 to study grizzly bears in the area for three years — one third of what was requested of VANOC by the Ministry of Environment.
That shortfall, say some environmentalists, is not befitting an organizing committee promising to hold the most sustainable Games ever.
“I’m not disappointed the trails are going ahead,” said Councillor Eckhard Zeidler, who has advocated for more study on the grizzlies before moving ahead with construction.
“I’m disappointed that at a time when John Furlong (VANOC CEO) has just said their finances are in “very good shape” their contribution to studying the grizzlies and their habitat in the trails area is so much less than what is required to do the job right.”
McKay said VANOC is trying to manage its budgets — the budget for the trails is coming out of the $580 million venue budget — and is hoping its contribution can be used to leverage more funding.
“What we were able to do was to manage our budgets responsibly and hopefully create a situation whereby putting the $100,000 on the table… that that seed money will help us and the Ministry of Environment go out there and find other partners and bring more money to the table,” he said.