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Pemberton searching for Olympic legacy



Pemberton - such a willing host for such fickle guests.

The community of 4,000 started out as one of the biggest Olympic boosters outside Whistler. It set out to become the next Heber, Utah, the spirited little city outside Salt Lake that celebrated day and night throughout the 2002 Winter Games.

Eight months ago Spud Valley planned to have a park and ride, a tent with a big screen in the middle of town so people could watch the Games together and a two-week Winterfest party that would display the best of its artists, musicians, cooks and farmers.

Now, with just over 100 days to the Games, none of these things are happening - and Pemberton has become the jilted little town that couldn't.

After the Jamaican bobsled team escaped its grasp last January the town hoped to make guests out of private security personnel - 1,600 of them to be exact, who would plunk their heads down in trailers situated in the Pemberton Industrial Park during the Games.

Pemberton hoped a housing camp could be an economic boon for the town and justify the raising of the tent. Now the camp is going to Whistler and it's back to the drawing board for Pemberton, says Paul Selina, past-president of the Pemberton and District Chamber of Commerce.

Selina has been at the forefront of efforts to see the Games pay dividends for the Pemberton Valley. He was to head up a temporary facility called Pemberton House, a kind of gathering centre where locals could greet the influx of visitors that the security camp would have brought. Its purpose, he says, was to celebrate Pemberton, the 2010 Games and raise money for charities.

As Selina tells it, there's little point in Pemberton House happening now. Reading Pique last week, he was offended to see Mayor Ken Melamed saying he wasn't in a place to consider economic inputs into other communities when deciding on the security camp.

"Local tourism is a large part of their economic makeup, particularly in these times of financial crisis and world recession," Selina said. "For the community leader to appear to disregard the economy of his neighbours as noted in the Pique last week, it's shortsighted and disrespectful, not only to his neighbours but to the good people of Whistler who voted for him."

Tuesday night's council meeting saw the resort town consider an application to locate the housing camp on the Rainbow property, just south of Emerald. The proponent, Contemporary Security Canada, a consortium overseeing private security at the Games, needed a property with enough space for beds and a dining hall, with the requisite servicing.

The meeting began in a jovial mood, with Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy wheeling four crates of potatoes into Millennium Place - a gift of thanks after Whistler gave his town a new bridge to straddle Pemberton Creek.

Sturdy was joined at the meeting by Councillors Al LeBlanc and Lisa Ames. Also present were village administrator Lori Pilon and Cam McIvor, the entrepreneur who's been pushing to house the camp in Pemberton.

Emphatic appeals by Councillors Ralph Forsyth and Eckhard Zeidler for regional sympathy found no other takers as a majority of Whistler council voted to permit the camp at Rainbow. Sturdy left in a huff, followed soon after by Ames and McIvor. None would comment after the meeting.

Speaking Wednesday morning, Sturdy admits he's angry about the decision.

"This is a $2.5 million loss to the Village of Pemberton and the Mount Currie Band," he said. "This is what we estimated as the economic value of having those people in this community. The Lil'wat Grocery Store was going to contract a commissary, supply groceries and stuff to the people, so they lose an opportunity there.

"This was to have given us enough critical mass to host the Pemberton House, the temporary facility that would have... given us a place to celebrate, and that is gone."

But the camp was never a sure thing for Pemberton. Why were its celebrations so contingent on something so uncertain?

"I felt that this was an opportunity for us to add a different dimension to the activities and the people, the atmosphere in Pemberton during the Olympics," Sturdy said. "Now we can continue to plan for a variety of activities but our options are far more limited now."

With the security camp gone, Selina still feels there's an Olympic legacy for Pemberton in that its proximity to Whistler will help it feel the spirit of the Games.

"We'll certainly feel a bit of excitement from that and be able to join in with some of the celebrations," he said. "The people in Pemberton are very, very community-minded and will welcome a lot of people.

"I'm certain we'll have an Olympic experience - spiritually. It's difficult to see a financial legacy."