By Amy Fendley Expansion of Centra Gas’ tank farm at Nesters will have to wait until at least June 21, when an independent review of the proposal will be brought to council. The request for an independent review follows concerns raised about the safety of the storage facility, the facility’s intrusion into the Nesters wetland, and questions about when Centra will build a natural gas pipeline from Squamish to Whistler. Wayne Cankovic, superintendent of customer service for Centra, said the company will be promptly following through on the municipality’s request for an independent third party to review the Nesters facility. "We have reviewed our construction schedule and are going to accommodate the delay and work with the RMOW to come forward on June 21 with the application," said Cankovic. "We’re not going to place our tank order right away, however this will mean that we will complete the expansion later in the season than hoped for. Our target was mid-October before, now we may be forced to complete it as late as November." Since Centra announced several months ago it has put plans to build a natural gas pipeline from Squamish to Whistler on hold, the company has been concentrating on expanding its storage facility north of Nesters Mall to accommodate growth through 2000. The expansion plans would see an additional five 120,000 litre propane tanks located adjacent to the six existing tanks, almost doubling storage capacity. Demands on the Centra Gas propane distribution system in Whistler have increased to the point where the existing propane storage capacity is no longer sufficient to meet the industry standard of five days reserve. Forecasted peak loads for the 1999/2000 heating season indicate that only 2.5 days of storage capacity will be possible with the six existing tanks. In order to increase this storage capacity to four days, the addition of five more tanks is required. Councillor Ken Melamed opposes the expansion because of its intrusion into the Nesters wetland. "The 15 metre buffer is not acceptable, the new standards are 30 metre buffers," said Melamed. "Centra needs to re-evaluate its business plan to address the wildlife habitat there (Nesters Pond), as small as it is." Safety concerns have been raised by a Whistler resident who has worked in the natural gas and propane industries for years. Zoher Meratla, an engineer and president of CDS Research Ltd., outlined his concerns about the three bulk propane storage facilities in Whistler (Green Lake, Nesters and Function Junction) in a letter to council. One of Meratla’s recommendations is to relocate all propane storage facilities away from subdivisions and the village, where a pipeline may be extended to feed the existing distribution system. But Centra says the existing facility at Nesters has been cleared of any applicable code infractions raised by Meratla at a May 19 meeting with the Whistler Fire Department and Centra Gas engineers. The municipality would like to encourage Centra to either move the facility out of its central location or pursue its original plan to pipe natural gas from Squamish to Whistler. Centra’s initial plans to lay a gas pipeline along the shoulder of Highway 99 to service Whistler were put on hold when the company found the project too expensive. Centra has also refused overtures to build a gas pipeline following a route other than the highway, which could become part of the Sea to Sky Trail, because that would cost even more. "This (expansion) strategy will ensure today’s customers have a secure and economical energy supply well into the future, as well as accommodate new customer growth through 2000," said Cankovic. "A natural gas pipeline is more than likely the next step. Our first choice will always be to build a pipeline... that will always be our primary choice when it’s economically feasible, and we are in agreement with the municipality on that. But hopefully things will go better for both parties on the 21st." Brian Kemble, vice president of Centra Gas said that expanding the existing propane system to accommodate growth beyond 2000 could result in an approximate 26 per cent increase from today’s customer rates over the next 15 years. "With this rate forecast, it would be difficult to sell propane as a long-term economical energy source," said Kemble. "Energy needs beyond 2000 may have to be served by alternative energy sources, such as electricity or bottled propane."