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Cheakamus residents remain unconvinced DES solution is coming

WDC has commissioned another report on controversial heating system

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Weeks after a technician came to his house to carry out repairs on his District Energy System (DES) heating unit, Tony Routley encountered what has become a familiar and unwelcome sight for some Cheakamus Crossing residents.

"I got a red screen the other day when it's the middle of summer for Christ's sake," said a frustrated Routley, who also serves as the neighbourhood representative for the Cheakamus DES citizen group.

Frustration has lingered in Cheakamus over the closed ambient heating system that has cost some residents major headaches and thousands of dollars in repairs since it was installed ahead of the 2010 Olympics.

But after years of complaints over the complicated and highly technical system that even certified engineers seem to struggle to understand, local mayor and council voted in October to lend municipal subsidiary and Cheakamus developer, the Whistler 2020 Development Corporation (WDC), $350,000 to carry out repairs.

That work was broken into two phases: In Phase 1, WDC committed to paying for a one-time inspection and repair of any of the eight deficiencies commonly identified in units. That work is now completed, with approximately 167 of the neighbourhood's 174 units electing to take part, according to WDC president Eric Martin.

Phase 2 work, which is still underway, is intended for units where more significant problems have been found. WDC will pay half of those required repair costs, up to a maximum of $1,000 per property.

It was a small glimmer of hope for Cheakamus residents, 80 per cent of whom said they were unsatisfied with the DES, according to an informal 2015 poll. But with issues persisting in some units, that sense of optimism is beginning to fade.

"It just feels like (the WDC) is patting their backs for doing a great job and yet there are still people with issues that haven't been identified," said Cheakamus resident Kelly Gibbens.

Gibbens said she has spent close to $3,000 in repairs after running into a number of difficulties with her unit, namely with pockets of air that keep getting trapped in her system. She claims her circulator pump, which has an expected 15-year lifespan, has been replaced four times since the DES was installed.

"They're not getting to the root of the issue and no one seems to be able to do that," Gibbens said.

Through the course of the Phase 1 work, Martin said the primary problem technicians encountered was around water quality.

"I think when we started doing all this work on the systems there was probably some sediment in the system that kind of got trapped, and we did these flushes. And in some cases, we did more than one because we had a lot of sediment," he noted. "It's not perfect yet, obviously, but I think we've made some good improvements."

DEC Engineering has agreed to produce a report — just the latest in a series of DES reports that have been carried out in recent years — following the completion of Phase 2 that will make recommendations for "other steps that the WDC may consider," explained Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

The general sentiment in Cheakamus, noted Routley, was that whatever next steps are taken, they need to be substantive.

"No more Band-Aids," he said.

But the mayor stressed patience, urging residents to await the results of DEC's upcoming report.

"Let's just see what the consultant advises us of doing next, if anything, and go from there," said Wilhelm-Morden, who added that "it's still premature" to say whether or not the controversial DES has been worth the trouble of the past years.

"We can see comments on Facebook, but that's not necessarily the best indicator as to the scope of the problem, if any. So we really do need to hear from the consultant," she added.

Ideally, Routley would like to see a solution that finally addresses the root causes of the problems that have plagued many units since the time of installation — even if that means replacing the entire system.

"We as the DES committee, our group is not standing down on this. If anything we're even more motivated now. It's been too long and there's been too many promises, and not enough has happened," he said.

Residents would also consider legal action if necessary.

"If there isn't a substantial change in the attitude of moving forward in rectifying this problem in a way that's actually going to rectify it, not these Band-Aids that have been used so far, then we will have to move onto the legal side of things. We have and are exploring that more all the time," he added.

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