News » Whistler

Crowd boos decision to go with P3 sewage plant

Council votes 5-2 in favour



It’s been their toughest decision to date.

On Monday council agreed to continue down the contentious path of entering into partnership with a private company for the multi-million dollar upgrades and, ultimately, the long-term operations of Whistler’s pungent sewage treatment plant.

As a consolation, urged on by Mayor Ken Melamed, council agreed it would not privatize the water delivery systems in the resort in the future.

Despite that promise the decision prompted angry outbursts from the audience, exasperated sighs and eventually disheartened boos from roughly 15 community members who had waited for more than four hours to hear how council would deal with the sewage plant.

"Stevie Wonder could see there’s going to be problems with this project," said a disappointed Pete Davidson, president of the local Canadian Union of Public Employees chapter, outside council chambers after the decision. "So they might want to get an eye exam."

Only two councillors – Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and Eckhard Zeidler – voted to abandon the public-private partnership, or P3.

It was a partially apologetic mayor who felt he owed it to the community to share his reasons why he voted in favour of the P3.

"I tried to make it clear last night that this was a very challenging decision for me," said Mayor Melamed on Tuesday morning. "I had to think as mayor and not as the old Ken, councillor. Part of me agreed with the groups that were opposing this."

As a councillor Melamed opposed the P3 when the option was presented to the last council, behind closed doors, more than two years ago.

He said deep down his heart and his philosophies lie with some of the groups in opposition of the P3, namely CUPE and the Council of Canadians.

As mayor, however, he said he had a duty to respect the decisions made in the past and not have a council flip-flopping back and forth like yo-yos. And they had to make a decision soon.

Council was unanimous in its support that they could not defer the decision any longer, he said. The upgrades need to be done before the 2010 Olympics. The plant is operating at capacity and during peak periods is stressed and not in compliance with provincial standards. The municipality has also been promising to fix the odour problem, which lingers over the south end of town, for several years.

Without a crystal ball to guide them, council had to rely on the information given to them from staff and other sources.

"In some cases it’s the devil you know versus the devil you don’t know and it requires a leap of faith and a set of assumptions," said Melamed, in an interview before he made his decision. "Certainly weighing heavily on my mind is the list of failed P3 projects. It would be irresponsible to go ahead and not seriously consider that. On the other hand our advisors are telling us that P3s have advanced so much since their inception that it has reduced the opportunity for failure. There’s great cause for confidence."