Opinion » Editorial


White elephants and grizzlies in the Olympic zoo



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“The post-Games business plan for the Whistler Nordic Centre recommended add-on options such as additional trail development, a sizable day lodge, and food and beverage concessions so that post-Games revenues could be maximized,” van Iersel wrote. “However, in the latest cost estimates of VANOC, the total length of trails has been reduced from 75 kilometres to 26 kilometres and the area of the proposed Nordic day lodge has been reduced to reduce the capital costs. This will affect the ability of that venue to generate the revenues anticipated in the post-Games business plan.

“The cost to scope in these changes after the Games may be significantly greater than if they were included in the venue construction phase.”

It has since come to light that there are at least four grizzly bears whose territory in the Callaghan Valley includes some of the area where the legacy trails were supposed to go. Grizzlies, we are told, once roamed as far south as Mexico, but because so much of their habitat has been destroyed their range and numbers have declined. The “discovery” of grizzlies in the Callaghan (First Nations say they have known grizzlies inhabited the area for years) has prompted calls to drop the legacy trails.

And perhaps the legacy trails will have to be scrapped. But to call for their elimination before an evaluation has been done to assess whether the trails could be built elsewhere, or winter-only trails could be developed, is premature.

VANOC has been deathly silent on the whole matter. But then, we have to remember that we don’t all share the same interests in the Olympics. As van Iersel wrote: “VANOC has stated that its core deliverable is ‘Games-ready’ facilities and that legacy investments will be made based on available funding. VANOC, by reducing its costs now, is increasing the Province’s costs later.”

Because the provincial government is the ultimate guarantor of the Olympic Games and their facilities, the acting Auditor General is warning British Columbia taxpayers that the Nordic centre could be a $115 million white elephant if the legacy trails aren’t included. But it is Whistler that could be the big loser if the Nordic centre is less than expected.

The problem is there is no one to advocate for the post-Games facility. The Legacies Society that is to own the Nordic centre, sliding centre and athletes’ centre and operate the facilities with the interest from a $110 million endowment has yet to be struck. In the absence of the Legacies Society the discussion on the long-term viability of the Nordic centre is taking place without an advocate.