The fate of the Ashlu Creek power project now rests in the hands of the nine-member regional district board who have a lot to mull over after a lengthy public hearing on the issue.
Upwards of 250 people braved the rainy weather on Wednesday, Nov. 17 to give their two cents on the matter of Ledcors proposed independent power project on Ashlu Creek. More than 100 of them spoke out on the project, either voicing their concerns or expressing support. A spontaneous show of hands in the packed room at the Sea to Sky Hotel in Squamish put the crowd fairly evenly divided on the issue.
Board Chair Susan Gimse cautioned members of the public to be respectful at the hearing even though they would likely hear a range of controversial positions and opinions.
The project from the outset has been polarized, with the neighbouring residents and kayakers who do not want the Ashlu river system disturbed on one side, and the workers and Squamish First Nation who will realize economic benefits if the project is to move forward on the other side.
Among residents in the Upper Squamish Valley there is a common feeling that the project will change their way of life forever, potentially adding unwanted noise to a serene environment, affecting wildlife in the area and presenting a potential flood hazard.
But Mike Seaborne, a resident of Pemberton Meadows Road, said he lives just down the road from an IPP in Pemberton.
"It hasnt changed my way of life at all," he said simply.
Trent Lynn, who introduced himself as P-Nut, lives in the Upper Squamish Valley. He considers himself lucky that he can raise his family on the same piece of land he grew up on, surrounded by mountains. His father always told him that the Ashlu was one of the natural wonders of the world. And he is opposed to the project.
"Our quality of life is not measure by how much money we have," said Lynn. This project, he added, is all about money.
A number of people at the public hearing spoke directly to the economic benefits that will flow out of the Ashlu IPP. Brad Mytko said he supports the training and hiring of local workers. He also supports the $10 million in spending locally that will come out of this project. He said all sectors, even the tourism sector, can co-exist on the Ashlu.
Over the years, as the tourism industry has exploded in the Sea to Sky corridor, the Ashlu Creek has become a prime destination for kayakers and rafting companies. But an IPP project on the Ashlu would change the flows of the river.
Run of river projects remove a significant portion of water from the creek, send it down a steep pipe into a power house where it generates "green" energy, and then the water is send back to the stream.
Recognizing the tourism and recreation values in the area, the proponents, Vancouver-based Ledcor, have proposed a deal whereby the kayakers would get flow releases that would send a certain amount of water into the river at specific times. Its a proposal that members of the kayaking community, some as far away as the northwestern United States, are opposed to.
Shane Robinson, who lives in Seattle but has kayaked in rivers around the world, voiced his opposition to a small run of river power project on a river as important as the Ashlu.
"I consider the Ashlu one of the top rivers that Ive ever travelled through," said Robinson. "This river is one of the best rivers I have ever seen in the world."
Mike Robertson, of Ledcor, said the resource must be shared. Ledcor, he said, has attempted to discuss mitigation with all sides, offering community amenities in exchange for the project, but the kayakers and the residents for the most part have been unwilling to negotiate.
"To accuse Ledcor of not being willing to talk to people is blatantly false," he said. "Its a very polarized issue and people need to realize that this is a resource that must be shared."
The corridor has become a hotbed for IPP development in recent years. A number of projects are on area streams, such as the Rutherford Creek, Miller Creek and Brandywine Creek, with more proposed down the road. Concerns abound about a lack of an overall, co-ordinated plan for IPP development in the area.
In the meantime, the rezoning bylaw for the Ashlu Creek IPP is before the board of the regional district.
Six of the nine board members, who include the mayors from the regions four municipalities and representatives from its four areas outside of the municipalities, were at the public hearing.
The board will most likely decide the fate of the Ashlu Creek IPP at their board meeting on Friday, Dec. 17.