By Alison Taylor
Tensions between the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the regional district appear to be easing after several months of strained relations.
The new chair of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board, Russ Oakley, introduced himself to Whistler council Monday night, coming to what he called the “centre of the SLRD universe.”
His short message to council was simple: to improve the operations of the regional district. That can be done, said Oakley, by SLRD board members making decisions for the good of the region and not just their own jurisdictions.
“If we can think that way at least while we’re at our board meetings, I think we’ll all benefit,” he said.
Mayor Ken Melamed, Whistler’s representative at the nine-member board table, agreed and said he takes that position when he’s at regional district meetings.
“When I’m sitting there I do think about the regional district as a whole and try and be very fair and not be Whistler-centric,” said the mayor after Monday’s meeting.
Councillor Eckhard Zeidler addressed the past strained relations between the two levels of government with Oakley.
That tension reached a head over the Green River Estates residential development project on Whistler’s northern boundary.
The fringe development is a serious concern to council. Ultimately it prompted them to withdraw Whistler’s money from the SLRD’s planning function — a severe blow to the regional district budget.
“We don’t want to go the way of the American experience (with development up and down the highway),” Zeidler told Oakley. “Please help us not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”
Oakley said the point was well taken and suggested there needed to be more discussions on issues before they get too far along in the process.
He also highlighted the importance of having all municipalities contributing financially to the planning function of the SLRD.
Due to timing Whistler’s funding remains in place at the regional district throughout 2007. Council is reviewing its decision to withhold future funding.
RMOW wants transit funding answers
Whistler council is looking for some certainty around provincial transit funding as demand for its bus service continues to expand.
Over the two-week holiday period Whistler Transit recorded the second highest ridership numbers in its history. The numbers were up 18 per cent over the previous year.
And yet, provincial funding for transit has been frozen for several years.
Mayor Ken Melamed said council sent a letter to provincial Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon to ask when the results of the B.C. Transit review will be ready.
“One way or the other the province is going to have to make a decision and what we’re asking them to do is make a decision on transit sooner rather than later,” said the mayor, after Monday’s council meeting.
“We can’t plan for the future until we know what’s coming and we need to plan for the future. Our system is stressed to the max trying to accommodate all of the increased demands.”
Whistler Transit moved on average 20,000 passengers every day during the holiday period, spiking to roughly 30,000 passengers on New Year’s Eve.
Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, the council representative on the Transit Management Committee, presented the numbers at Monday’s meeting.
She said the numbers reiterate the hugely successful transit system and are an indicator of the economic resurgence in the resort.
Whistler puts issues before MLA
Mayor Ken Melamed and municipal administrator Bill Barratt are keeping Whistler’s issues on the provincial radar screen.
Last week they booked an hour-long session with local MLA Joan McIntyre during her community visiting hours.
Among the topics of conversation were several outstanding issues at the provincial level such as transit funding, labour shortages, Class 1/6 taxation, the Green River Estates development and the boundary expansion, and the First Nations golf course development application in the Callaghan Valley.
“No breakthroughs,” said the mayor. “(We) just reinforce(d) what our interests are, what the files are.”
He added that McIntyre has done a very good job keeping in touch with the community issues and being available to listen to concerns.