Bob MacPherson is taking the heat.
The Resort Municipality of Whistler's director of community admitted to a Cheakamus Crossing resident this week that he's the "villain" in the ongoing controversy because he recommended to council that the athletes' village be placed at its current location without knowing there was an asphalt plant nearby.
He told Pique last Thursday that he made the "villain" comment in jest but he nevertheless took responsibility for the recommendation that the athletes' village be located in the Cheakamus area.
MacPherson reported to council about the athletes' village in 2004.
"We had gone through a long process of looking and what the extent of development should be in the community," he said in an interview. "(There were) two options initially: one was Cheakamus Crossing, the other was the Callaghan. The community decided we don't want to see development in the Callaghan so we were left with Cheakamus."
The municipality had also looked at other locations and found that Rainbow and the land around it were viable for the village. MacPherson nevertheless recommended Cheakamus over the other options.
MacPherson toured Cheakamus prior to his report. He saw machinery near the location and knew there was a license for gravel extraction but it was winter and the asphalt plant wasn't operating at the time. It also wasn't zoned, therefore he didn't even know it was there.
It was his recommendation that convinced council to accept the location.
"Nothing there that I reviewed in terms of acts or files revealed to me there was an asphalt plant operating there," he said. "I know I was thorough. It was a report that was a long time in preparation and there was a lot of homework that went into it. It just never presented itself that there was an asphalt plant there."
Today, Whistlerites are seeing the fallout from that recommendation after the municipality decided to make the athletes' village a permanent neighbourhood for Whistler residents that would allow over 1,200 full-time workers to live, work and play in their own community.
Last November, about 100 homeowners at Cheakamus Crossing approached council to see about relocating the asphalt plant that is owned by Whistler Aggregates Ltd. All of the owners were made aware of the asphalt and gravel operations in disclosure statements but they were also informed that council was looking at options for moving the plant.
In November 2009, council resolved to find a new home for the plant by June 1 but after obtaining a legal opinion they reached an agreement with the owner to relocate it 150 metres south of its current site behind a hill. The agreement asks that the plant cease operations at its current location by November 30, 2010 and relocate to the new site by April 30, 2011. Residents have been told the municipality is spending about $400,000 on the relocation.
The move is not enough for Cheakamus Crossing residents, who said at a meeting last Thursday (June 10) that they don't think it should be located in Whistler at all. They worry that it's never been zoned and that asphalt production releases dangerous particulate into the air.
Tim Koshul, a soon-to-be resident at Cheakamus and activist with a group that has tentatively called itself NAP (No Asphalt Plant), said he's thankful that MacPherson admitted his role in the planning of the development but he's shocked that no one brought up the plant while the athletes' village was being planned.
"I appreciate the fact that Bob mentioned they did a lot of homework," he said. "But no one, if this has been in that area, whether it's been since 1984 or 1997, who knows when that portable plant was placed there, that no one at municipal hall, in all the discussions, would have brought up, even in passing, a conversation about somebody that has something as important as an asphalt plant.
"This thing is not an allowable use there. This thing has never been zoned correctly and if it had been zoned correctly, I'm almost certain that Mr. MacPherson would have been aware of an asphalt plant operating on that site."
For his part, MacPherson believes he carried out his work in a "thorough and professional manner" in recommending that the athletes' village be located where it was ultimately built.
When asked, however, whether he would have placed it there if he knew about an asphalt plant nearby, he said he didn't know.
"I don't know, probably so," he said. "What my report says, I read it two weeks ago now, it says there are adjacent site uses that will have to be given careful consideration about how those are addressed. Land fill, wastewater treatment plant, gravel were certainly identified, gravel extraction was certainly identified.
"If an asphalt plant were there... I think I would have addressed it the same as those other land uses."