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Fitzsimmons debris barrier looks affordable

RMOW plans to award contacts for barrier and parking lots next week, construction planned for September



Both bids on the Fitzsimmons Creek debris barrier have come in below budget, according to James Hallisey, manager of environmental projects for the municipality.

And while Hallisey said he was not able to release the numbers yet, the bids will be made public before council’s special meeting on Monday, Aug. 25 when the municipality hopes to award the contract for building the debris barrier.

“The numbers look pretty good, we just need to check the details,” said Hallisey on Tuesday, Aug. 19.

Receiving two bids within budget spells out good news for the four council members who expressed concern this week about the debris barrier’s potential cost.

In a 4-2 vote this week, council decided to defer awarding the contract to pave three of Whistler’s day skier parking lots until more details on the barrier project were known, since the two projects are closely tied together.

“I do not want to look at the parking lot tenders in isolation of the entire package, which includes the debris barrier, which is still a wildcard,” said Councillor Eckhard Zeidler.

Added Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden: “I am ultimately concerned about the cost of the whole package, and whatever the tenders say tomorrow is a significant factor as to what my decision is going to be.

“I agree that we cannot unravel the debris structure from the parking. The two are tied, but I just cannot commit to going down that road until I know what that debris structure is going to cost.”

Only Councillor Bob Lorriman and Mayor Ken Melamed voted against deferring the parking lot contract and development permit.  

“If councillors are asking for all the I’s to be dotted and all the T’s to be crossed before carrying through, I want to remind council that this is the fulfillment and logical execution of motions that were enacted and committed to previously,” said Melamed.

“We are building the debris structure no matter what, unless the tenders come in at exorbitant prices… I am really asking councillors who have expressed an opposition to get behind this based on their previous encouragement and commitment to staff to follow this course of action.”

Hallisey said he understood council’s reluctance to go ahead without seeing all the numbers and said that their decision should not delay the project.

The municipality has set aside a total of $6.9 million for the debris barrier structure, which will mitigate the Fitzsimmons landslip, including construction of the actual structure.

One of the bids to pave the day skier parking lots was also below budget. Whistler Excavation submitted the lowest bid at $2.8 million, significantly less than the municipality’s estimate of $3.1 million.

Work on the Lots 1, 2, and 3, along with a   roadway through Lot 4 to Lorimer Road, is expected to begin within the next month and be completed by July 2009. During the following winter, the parking lots will be used by the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) for Olympic Games purposes. By the summer of 2010, pay parking will be implemented.

Current estimates for the pay parking rates are $8 per day in the winter and $12 per day in the summer. Hourly rates will also be available, although precise pricing has not been finalized. All of the other day skier parking lots will remain free.

Revenue from pay parking is estimated to be $1 million per year, after 2010. That money will be used to pay for the debris barrier and parking lot construction over a 20-year period, as well as the operating costs for the upgraded parking lots. Any additional revenue will be used to fund a municipal transit affordability program.

Upgrading the parking lots is a project that has been on the table for many years. Earlier this year, the municipality acquired title to the day skier parking lots from the B.C. government in return for promising to build the debris barrier before the 2010 Games.

When the deal was signed, there was speculation that the debris barrier might be delayed until after the Olympics because of the high construction costs. The municipality’s position has been that if the project is too expensive, it would not have to move forward until it made financial sense.

Also, municipal staff is still finalizing a management agreement with Whistler-Blackcomb. In the agreement, the municipality will be responsible for all infrastructure improvements related to the facility. The parking lots will be used primarily for ski area patrons and secondarily to supplement existing public parking in the village.

Until pay parking is implemented, Whistler-Blackcomb will continue to manage the maintenance and daily operations of the parking lots at their cost.

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