A Squamish engineer who has studied the Fitzsimmons landslip is very concerned that the building of a barrier to save lives in the event of a catastrophic slide may be put off for years due to financial pressures.
“I would be very concerned if there was any delay,” said Frank Baumann this week, following an announcement that the municipality would take over responsibility for construction of a debris barrier for the land slump in return for the province turning over ownership of the day skier parking lots.
“It absolutely should be built this summer and to have this loom over our heads during the Olympics would be really bad news. Just imagine if an event happened, even a small event during the Olympics. That would be disastrous.
“The Fitzsimmons Slump is an unacceptable public hazard, and must be dealt with immediately. Whistler’s very use of the upper parking lot and bus loop should be contingent on them starting construction of the protective works.”
Baumann pointed to a fatal landslide in North Vancouver in January 2005 as an example of what can happen.
“If there is one thing that we learned from the North Vancouver landslide disaster is that municipalities must address public safety concerns that may affect their citizens,” he said.
The deal with the province is based on an understanding that the debris barrier would be built before the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
But it also contains an understanding that if the project is too expensive then the municipality does not have to move forward with it until such a time as it makes sense financially.
“Whistler is not expected to bankrupt itself to complete on this deal,” said Mayor Ken Melamed following the Tuesday announcement, which was attended by other dignitaries including Pat Bell, provincial minister of Agriculture and Lands.
Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden pointed to the hot construction market as one reason why the project may be delayed.
“At some point we will have to build the barrier but we just won’t have to do it before 2010 and, of course, that is what the concern is, that we are in a heated construction climate,” she said
“We haven’t seen any kind of detailed designs. We have an obligation to tender and if it is too expensive we just won’t do it.
“So it will get built at some point, but if it is too expensive to do it for November 2009 it won’t get done.”
Council has seen some preliminary designs and cost estimates for the barrier and associated catchment basin to deal with gravel issues. It has also seen some preliminary numbers for parking revenues. Neither estimates can be shared with the public.