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Municipality's commitment to green initiatives questioned

AWARE, Coun. Sue Maxwell say budget doesn't go far enough

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A local councillor and the resort's leading environmental organization are questioning whether the RMOW's proposed budget pushes Whistler far enough towards its green goals.

Reiterating concerns she first raised at a budget open house last month, Claire Ruddy, director of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), said the municipality's draft Five-Year Financial Plan doesn't invest enough in environmental initiatives.

AWARE counted about $2.9 million in projects in the draft budget identified as improving the community's environmental performance. Of that, roughly half is dedicated to wildfire protection, $750,000 dedicated to maintenance, retrofits, or studies, and an additional $200,000 for compliance, online software projects, the Cheakamus Community Forest, and others. That leaves about $355,000, less than one per cent of the $40-million project budget, dedicated to things like ecosystem monitoring, wildlife protection, home energy rebates, and more, Ruddy said.

"We're putting more money into marketing and getting more people here visiting," she added. "We're not seeing budgets coming alongside that that are about educating people on how to be good stewards of our natural environment."

With many of the big-ticket infrastructural improvements already made, Ruddy said Whistler should focus on promoting behavioural shifts. She credited the RMOW's Transportation Advisory Group for working to get drivers out of their cars, and would like to see the same commitment to Whistler's other green initiatives.

"Public engagement, especially in this town with our visitation and transiency, it takes time, it takes money, and it's got to be ongoing," she said.

For Councillor Sue Maxwell, it's the slow pace of progress on the RMOW's green files in particular that needs improving. Similar to Ruddy, she pointed specifically to the Community Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), questioning why more of the recommendations in the 2016 report were not included in the RMOW's five-year budget. (The report does note, however, that many of the recommendations will require buy-in from community partners.)

"Given that it took six months for staff to produce a report just telling us where we're at shows that it's going to be a challenge to complete the work," she said.

One recommendation Maxwell referred to calls for the creation of "Climate Action Coordinator" position at the RMOW to oversee the implementation of the CECAP, a role that has been incorporated into staff's existing workload, said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

The mayor noted how the RMOW's most recent energy and GHG progress report, presented in December, highlights all the ongoing work on the CECAP that has been initiated at municipal hall, with the major priorities centreing on housing and transportation. The report details progress on less than half of the 93 recommended actions in the CECAP, although Wilhelm-Morden said much of that work is being done through other RMOW projects.

"To say that we're not reflecting CECAP in our budget this year or within the next five years is simply not accurate," she added.

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