With less than a month to go before construction of the Celebration Plaza begins, Whistler residents are diligently collecting signatures to protest deforesting Lots 1 and 9 where the plaza will go.
The petition has collected at least 450 signatures since it began circulating March 16, though its grass root’s nature makes it hard to pin down exact figures, said organizer Heather Henderson.
She added that at least seven other volunteers are also gathering signatures that have not yet been included in the total figure.
Henderson decided to start the petition after learning that the trees located on Lot 1/9, between the Whistler Medical Centre and Brew House Pub, were earmarked be cut down to make room for an Olympic celebration plaza.
“I had been asking people around town what was going on with the trees, and no one seemed to know,” said Henderson, who sees the trees daily from her job with The Oracle.
“I decided to take some action and found out that they intended to clear the site and put up a celebration platform, and that is when I decided I wanted to start a petition.”
The petition was launched the same day that 80 people rallied together on the Lot 1/9 site to protest the municipality’s plans to cut the trees. Henderson plans to take the list of signatures to council April 7 to demonstrate the local concern.
The petition is available online at www.whistlerwatch.org and asks the municipality to move the “temporary” plaza to another location, open up discussion with the community on the issue and consider alternatives for the Lot 1/9 site development.
The petition also “demands that the RMOW (Resort Municipality of Whistler) be held accountable for the public’s input.”
Mayor Ken Melamed said he is not sure this campaign will change the scope of the project, since municipal staff has already gotten the green light to begin construction in April.
“What is going to occur, however… is there will be some refinement of the plans and perhaps some opportunities for members of the community to look at the clearing plan and see what trees can be saved and what has to be removed,” said the mayor.
“Essentially I think a course has been committed to and at this point it is only a question of how to respond to those people in the community who would like to see more trees saved on the lot.”
The contested area has long been eyed for development. After the 2010 Olympics were awarded to Vancouver and Whistler in 2003, plans were to build an arena to host the Paralympic sledge hockey on the site. But as costs for the rink climbed, the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) asked that the sledge hockey be moved to an existing rink in Vancouver. Discussions then began about developing a space for the Olympic medals presentations, for people to gather during and after the Olympics, and creating a lasting symbol of the Games.