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Wetlands need protection from WIC
According to the proponents of the suggested Whistler International Learning Campus (WIC) their development would come at no cost to the Whistler Community. Whistler's environmental group AWARE invites community members to think differently.
To be clear AWARE is not opposed to the concept of a university should the community decide this is appropriate to the future of Whistler. However, we strongly believe the site proposed for WIC is of too great an ecological value for the community to loose.
It is widely publicized that the WIC proposal would not seek to develop the wetlands themselves ,but concentrate development to the upland areas. However, it would be hugely negligent for us to consider these upland areas in isolation from the environmentally sensitive and complex wetland ecosystems that they sustain. With over 70 per cent of Whistler's valley bottom wetlands now gone, it is even more important to protect the ecology and diversity of this area.
For over 20 years the community and multiple councils have recognized the ecological importance of the Zen-owned site, despite various proposals for development. AWARE has continually maintained its position: that the wetlands and upland areas be considered an inter-connected ecosystem, which remains undeveloped (inclusive of those uplands proposed for WIC).
With current site zoning allowing four single-family dwellings we have respectfully requested that mayor and council resist any further up zoning of the land.
The following points provide additional background to this long running debate:
•The community has repeatedly recognized the importance of this site throughout the OCP and W2020 processes, with clear understanding that the uplands and wetlands are symbiotic.
•The OCP is explicit in the commitment to limit development to the least environmentally sensitive lands within Whistler.
•The independent Protected Areas Network (PAN) process and municipal Terrestrial Ecosystem Mapping both recognize the importance of the site as the only intact wetland / upland ecosystem of its magnitude remaining in the Whistler valley.
•This site was one of only two sites allocated PAN1 zoning through the Protected Areas Networks research and resulting strategy. A designation only assigned to the areas of highest habitat and biodiversity value.
•Adopting a precautionary principle AWARE believes there is not adequate understanding of the ecology, species diversity and connectivity relating to the proposed site.
•The WIC proposal with nearly a million square feet of developed space, servicing 1,400 students and 400+ staff, would have a vastly increased environmental impact on the site than four, single-family homes for which the site is zoned.
Whistler has already lost most of its wetland complexes to developments such as Nicklaus North Golf Course and subdivision, the Whistler Golf Course, Nesters Transit Yard, as well as areas of White Gold, Spruce Grove, Millar's Pond and Tapley's.
Consequently, AWARE invites the community to consider the value of the WIC site not in dollars and cents, but as an at-risk habitat that supports a great diversity of plants and wildlife, both of which are increasingly marginalized in our small resort town. If a university is deemed a priority then let's go for it — but let's find a more appropriate site.
We invite those who are interested in continued discussion to visit a new Facebook page we have created specific to this issue, access it through our existing AWARE Whistler Facebook or our website www.awarewhistler.org.
Claire Ruddy for the Board of Directors AWARE