Opinion » Letters to the Editor

Letters to the editor for the week of February 13th


They'll pave paradise to put up... a parking lot?

Philip Langridge, a resident of Taluswood, along with well over a thousand others signed a petition to voice opposition to the proposal by Whistler Blackcomb to pave a substantial area of the Dave Murray Downhill, Timing Flats, to construct, of all things, a parking lot!

Many more will follow. (Langridge) recently took his cause to Whistler municipal council to seek support for his opposition and failed to get it. Without getting into the merits and rationale of Langridge's entreaties to municipal council, or whoever else will listen to him, I am a strong advocate of opposing this proposal by Whistler Blackcomb.

It appears to be subject only to the blessing of the province under the Whistler Development Agreement between them. The area is located on Crown land, and Whistler Blackcomb has to meet its obligations for trail design and development, passenger lift development and environmental concerns. I don't think Whistler Council has a legal say in the matter, but they certainly have a voice and they should use it.

This paper reported on the council session, and Philip Langridge (and his son, Andrew) subsequently wrote thoughtful letters to explain why he felt he deserved their support. I and a number of my friends recently signed a petition opposing the proposal because the construction of an ugly parking lot (are there any other kinds?) on an existing, iconic ski run cannot possibly be in the best interest of Whistler residents; particularly those residing in the Nordic community, which will be most impacted.

However, my opposition is not vested in (poor) research, hysterical concerns of skiers and riders colliding on a more restricted Dave Murray ski run — it's just that it is such a bad, bad decision for all stakeholders — the community, the province and Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc.

When Doug Forseth, senior vice president operations at Whistler Blackcomb, became aware of my opposition he gave me a courtesy call to provide some facts and balance to the debate and media coverage.

I got to know and respect Doug, Dave Brownlie (WB's president and CEO) and others on the management team through my two years with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games (VANOC) as its CFO when Olympic venue agreements were being negotiated.

The spirit and intent of all those agreements was to leave a post-games legacy in which disturbed areas, like the timing flats, would be at least restored to their previous condition — if not enhanced.

Local residents and citizens of Whistler expected and deserved that kind of assurance from VANOC, and both parties had promised to live up to it.

Doug made a sensible case for their parking lot proposal — as in the best interests of a publicly traded commercial enterprise — and it was clear that much thought and planning had gone into it. I would have expected nothing less from Doug.

Whistler Blackcomb has an outstanding management team and a strong board, not least (former VANOC CEO) John Furlong among them. Doug pointed out the impracticalities of re-grading the terrain when there is valuable infrastructure — fibre optic cabling, etc., that would be needed to attract world-class downhill events in future.

I agreed — but that is all unrelated to constructing a parking lot. There's a lot that can and should be done to that area to restore and improve its appearance — trees, blueberry bushes, natural grasses, etc., — but not asphalt.

The point is, that aside from the obvious negatives from a community and aesthetic perspective, paving a ski run, increasing traffic flow through our Nordic community, pedestrian safety issues on Nordic Drive, the need for yet another traffic light at the Nordic Drive 99 exit, etc., — it is simply a bad business decision. Bad for Whistler Blackcomb, a disaster for those in the immediate affected community, and a blight on Whistler generally.

Whistler Blackcomb says, "Its strategic focus includes a disciplined capital allocation process that contemplates investing capital strategically to improve guest experience and drive growth..."

And, it has some excellent examples of that — notably an $18 million investment in the replacement of the Harmony high-speed quad chairlift with a new high-speed, detachable, six-pack quad chairlift going into Crystal Ridge. However, the continued success of Whistler Blackcomb depends in large measure on preserving and enhancing its brand — arguably its most important asset — in both domestic and international markets.

Would the Swiss, or Austrians ever allow a parking lot to be constructed on an iconic downhill run like the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuhel? The Swiss won't even permit a winery operation to mar the landscape of its valley's of vineyards — they are all underground and out of sight.

The meagre return Whistler Blackcomb could ever expect from this minor parking lot investment is far outweighed by the risk it assumes to its reputation and brand arising from the 5,000 or more I would expect will eventually sign up to oppose it — and others.

If international opinion weighs in as I expect it will — there could be 10,000 or more. It is such a bad decision. The risk far outweighs the return.

Whistler has been an operation since 1966, but is a relative newcomer to the public capital markets where 75 per cent of its ownership now resides. Whistler Blackcomb Holding Inc. files its Annual Information Form without an Annual Report to Shareholders. It does not yet have a policy or process for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) that public companies in mature capital markets are either required or motivated to have. It should adopt one.

CSR is a duty of every public company to protect the interest of the society at large. Surveys of senior executives (myself included) indicate that CSR creates business value in a number of ways — by building reputation, enhancing employee morale, and strengthening competitive positions.

Even though the main motive of business is to earn profits for its shareholders, the duty of management and directors is "to the Company" — all stakeholders — not just to its shareholders. In Whistler Blackcomb's case, the welfare of the local community is a big part of that — they are significant stakeholders. Here's an opportunity to discharge that duty and make a sound business decision at the same time.

Whistler Blackcomb has a terrific vision: " to be the number one mountain resort in the world... to play, to work and to invest..."

It will have proposals in the future that will involve more capital, may be controversial and will require the support and goodwill of the citizens of Whistler to get them through.

Paving the timing flats is to squander both its goodwill and capital, not least its well-earned social capital. Why pave paradise to put up a parking lot?

Rex J. McLennan


Is increased traffic the concern?

Messrs Phillip and Andrew Langridge, further to your letters of February 6th, me thinks thou dost protest too much, particularly after viewing your presentation to council, which was somewhat over dramatic.

Every time I go up the Creekside Gondola I see that this unused parking lot has been gated, and looks just like your iconic Dave Murray downhill run; covered in snow like it is every winter.

Have you given consideration to the possibility that the citizens of Whistler might like the idea of an overflow parking lot?

It might only be used a few times per season, on one of those epic, blue-sky Saturday mornings following a 30cm overnight snowfall when every possible parking spot in Creekside is occupied.

Is it possible that you and the other residents of the Ridge at Taluswood are really only concerned about the possibility that, heaven forbid, there might be more traffic on Nordic Drive?

Gary McDonnell


Other lasting 2010 Olympic legacies

• Pinecrest wetlands destroyed, Red legged frogs wiped out.

• Literally tons of garbage left behind in some of the most sensitive of ecosystems, even today.

• Over 2,000 dump trucks of contaminated mine tailing dumped into Howe Sound.

• Millions of dollars wasted on the hydrogen highway idea.

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