Opinion » Editorial




There was never going to be a dramatic climax to Tuesday's public hearing on the asphalt plant. The most dramatic thing would have been if the hearing continued Wednesday night due to the sheer number of speakers, something the municipality considered a real possibility.

Instead the public hearing wrapped up at about 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, after 22 speakers - several of whom spoke more than once, 64 letters opposing the proposed bylaws were received, four letters in support and another couple offering comment.

If it was the second last step in the 10-month asphalt plant saga - a big if - it seemed to wind down due to a lack of inertia. The arguments and questions were aired a final time and the topic was exhausted.

The nature of a public hearing - which is to give members of the public every opportunity to comment and question proposed bylaws while council members listen without debating the points raised - was never going to leave opponents of the asphalt plant proposal satisfied. Particularly as they know that a slim majority of council favoured the proposal at first and second reading.

But it would be entirely wrong to think that all of council and municipal staff are happy with the proposed solution.

The asphalt plant, the most contentious, heart-wrenching issue in years, has frustrated everyone. Many of those frustrations stem from council comments and commitments that couldn't and shouldn't have been made, including setting a June 1 date to move the plant when there were few facts available and signing the current proposed agreement prior to an open house that was intended for discussion of several options. The final frustration was the "legal opinion" that council couldn't or wouldn't share with the public. The matter was crystallized in the exchange of letters last week between the municipal solicitor and the lawyer working for opponents of the plant.

The opponents' lawyer "...does not have access to the additional, confidential background information that has informed our previous opinions to the RMOW on this issue. It is our opinion that this information must remain confidential to protect the legal and financial best interests of the RMOW and all of its residents, and to maintain the RMOW's governance best practices," wrote the municipality's lawyer, Don Lidstone.

Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law countered: "In my view, since Council is most clearly relying on documents related to this mysterious 'additional factual background information,' there is a legal obligation to disclose any and all such information, except arguably information that is covered by solicitor-client privilege. This would include any of the documents upon which you based your previous legal opinions that were not actually prepared in anticipation of litigation and correspondence with third parties regarding the legal situation."

What this additional background information was - confidential or factual - remains a frustrating mystery. And rightly so. We can speculate on the merits of one legal opinion versus another but we should not expect this council to disregard the legal advice it receives from a lawyer who has represented the municipality for more than 20 years. Protecting "the legal and financial best interests of the RMOW and all of its residents" is one of council's primary responsibilities.

The frustration, the exasperation at what one hopes is the end of a long, long debate is entirely understandable. Beyond the roller coaster ride of responses from council is the bottom-line fact that some people believe their health, or their children's health, will be jeopardized by the asphalt plant. Those concerns will not be assuaged if the proposed plan for the asphalt plant is approved.

These people need an out. They are a minority - the many residents of Cheakamus Crossing who are happy with their new homes and satisfied with the proposed solution for the asphalt plant have been under-represented in the media coverage - but in trying to do the best thing for the majority council and the municipality should not overlook the concerns and needs of the minority.

It may be too late in the day to find a satisfactory solution but if the asphalt plant deal does go through an effort should be made to reach out to these people. Those who bought into Cheakamus Crossing were making an investment in their future and the future of Whistler. Many are happy with the bargain they've made; others need to know that their concerns have not been forgotten in the quest to find a compromise solution that is in the best interests of the entire Whistler community.