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Olympic bob-luge track and power project on same site



The site for the Olympic bob-luge track has stalled the development of a small hydroelectric power project on the Fitzsimmons Creek.

Both the luge and the power project’s water pipe, called the penstock, are slated to run on the right bank of Fitzsimmons Creek, on the south slopes of Blackcomb Mountain.

"There’s a conflict with location which we are actively trying to resolve in government," said Charles Littledale, regional manager of Land and Water B.C.

"The facts are that this run of river project is located in the same area as the bob-luge."

Plans for the run of river project have been put on hold for over two months since the Olympic Bid Corp. announced there was a land conflict in the area.

Michele Prenz, spokeswoman for the bid, said the Bid Corp. narrowed the luge track down to this site after looking at other sites in the Callaghan Valley, Whistler, Blackcomb and the Lower Mainland.

"At that point we received basically a comfort level from both the province and Intrawest as well as the municipalities and the sports federations that this site would work," she said.

"And now we’re working with Ledcor to resolve joint use of this site and to ensure that the two facilities can co-exist."

Ledcor, an independent power producer who is developing the power project, had done preliminary designs of the site with an inflatable weir near Little Spearhead Road. The weir which would direct water into a 4 metre wide intake.

The water would be carried almost 4 kilometres underground in a pipe to a powerhouse at the Blackcomb Works Yard. It would follow the general route of the existing access road.

"The challenge with going under(ground) is that the Olympic Bid doesn’t have their design work done," said Derek Hutchinson, project development manager at Ledcor.

"They’re worried about the project impacting their facilities."

A major hurdle in the process is that the Olympic Bid Corp. will not finalize engineering plans for the luge site, which will remain a permanent structure in Whistler, until after July 2003, when the winner of the 2010 winter Olympics is announced in Prague.

Likewise all details for the power project have yet to finalized.

"We still have yet to finalize the design in a way that it complements and does not hamstring our snowmaking system," said Arthur De Jong, mountain planning and environmental resource manager for Whistler-Blackcomb.

He said the snowmaking operations also take water out of Fitzsimmons Creek and that water is crucial to operations on the mountain.

"Until both plans are fully engineered and approved you can’t actually overlay them with confidence," said De Jong.

"Once we get the engineering then we can determine where we can route the penstock."

If the penstock is to run on the same site as the luge, it may have to go deeper underground to avoid contact with the track.

Throughout the summer the provincial government has been looking at the situation, trying to come up with an answer.

The talks may have put Ledcor’s run of river project behind schedule. They were slated to be finished construction and delivering power to the B.C. Hydro grid by December 2003.

"From my understanding it’s close to resolution," said Littledale.

"Really what we’re hoping to do is find a win-win situation to design and engineer the two together so that they are compatible."

De Jong is confident that this can be achieved.

"There’s no doubt that the luge and the penstock can coexist in the same area," he said.

"They can overlap but now there’s a timing issue."

The Fitzsimmons hydroelectric project would generate 32 gigawatt hours of electricity each year, which is equivalent to the energy Whistler-Blackcomb uses in its annual operations or the equivalent of the amount of energy needed to power 3,000 homes.

"Whistler-Blackcomb’s perspective is we are very supportive of the project," said De Jong.

He stands by what he said in an earlier interview with Piquenewsmagazine at an open house in July.

"If we’re going to be true to ourselves and apply ourselves seriously to the Natural Step, we have to give our best effort in applying this project," De Jong said.

"The caveat, of course, is the support of the community."

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