Council authorized the removal of trees for the Whistler Health Centre upgrades on Tuesday evening, though the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has no intention of cutting anything until Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has all their "ducks in a row."
Joe Paul, manager of development services for the RMOW, said that the trees will be removed as soon as VCH has met all of Transport Canada's upgrade requirements. He said it is conceivable that VCH could have all of this done by the Nov. 22 deadline, but there is no word yet on whether that will actually be the case.
If it takes until February for VCH to get everything sorted, then Paul said, "I won't pull the trigger on those trees until February."
At the root of the issue is making the necessary upgrades for H1 and H2 helicopter flight path landings. H1 requires only modest tree topping, while H2 requires complete removal of the trees between day Lot 4 and Lorimer Road to create an emergency landing area for helicopters.
H2 flight paths allow for more versatile aircraft to fly and land in the area, which VCH has expressed as necessary to provide the absolute best care to patients.
"I'm not an expert in this field. VCH is convinced that the H2 status results in the best patient outcomes at this facility," Paul said at the council meeting.
Both levels of upgrade require the lowering of traffic lights, as well as a road closure program for when helicopters are landing - which council also approved.
Mayor Ken Melamed and councillors Ralph Forsyth and Eckhard Zeidler were opposed to the motion.
"This is a village, not an airport," Melamed said. "If we're turning this into an airport, we need to rethink what we're doing."
Forsyth and Melamed both favoured an option offered by Transport Canada, which said that allocating between 150 and 200 parking stalls in Day Lots 4 or 5 would also be acceptable for creating an emergency-landing pad.
Melamed saw this option as a temporary solution to buy the RMOW more time to decide on another, more permanent solution, aside from removing the trees completely.
RMOW CAO Bill Barratt said that allocating 200 parking stalls could be problematic since the RMOW operates the day lots in an agreement with the B.C. government and Whistler Blackcomb.
Meanwhile, VCH is taking the blame for the confusion over the Whistler Health Centre heliport upgrades, and now they're working with both Transport Canada and the Resort Municipality of Whistler for a quick solution.
Larry Harder, Director of Capital Projects for VCH said that the Nov. 22 deadline to have all the upgrades completed was set well before he asked the RMOW for approval to make the upgrades two weeks ago.