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Questions remain for Squamish over increased costs for evac plan

Council briefs: New GIS mapping tool goes live; plumbing and building bylaw updated

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While Whistler council voted on Nov. 21 to increase funding for a Sea to Sky evacuation plan, there are still some lingering questions for the District of Squamish (DOS) council.

The plan was originally devised as a 50/50 cost share between the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and DOS, with each contributing $15,000.

But when the bidding process closed in August, RMOW staff found they had vastly underestimated the amount of work needed to develop a comprehensive plan, and came back to council with a new ask: an additional $185,000.

The DOS has yet to commit to additional funding beyond the original $15,000, but if it does, Whistler's share will be reduced to $125,000. Other funding options, like a potential grant from the Union of BC Municipalities and doing some of the work in-house, are being explored.

The importance of having an evacuation plan is not lost on the DOS council, said Squamish Mayor Patricia Heintzman, but there are some questions around the increased cost.

"I think we want to understand the scope. Why was the original amount so much less? What are we getting for that additional amount?" Heintzman said.

"I'm trying to understand what a 200-plus-thousand-dollar evacuation plan looks like. It seems like a staggering cost for an evacuation plan."

Asked for specifics, the RMOW said the quotes received through the tender process are still third-party-protected information at this time, but in general, it was "the cost of evaluating transportation infrastructure" to determine how to maximize traffic flow during an evacuation that was originally underestimated.

"While we are always judicious in our use of tax dollars, having a robust evacuation transportation plan is essential to protecting the safety and lives of people in an emergency, and in this case, we want the optimal model available," an RMOW spokesperson said.

"There is concern that extra cost saving could be regretted if a mass emergency evacuation were required."

Another discussion at the Squamish council table involved emergency planning work done before the 2010 Olympics, and if some of that might be utilized in any new planning.

"Council just needs to understand a little bit more about exactly what we're getting, and where the scope creep occurred and why — and there might be really good reasons," Heintzman said.

"And then we have to budget for it fundamentally."

Early budget discussions are already underway in Squamish, Heintzman said, and a decision around increasing the DOS funding commitment to $100,000 total will likely come in the new year.

The plan is ambitious in scope, and will detail how Sea to Sky communities will evacuate their entire populations in the event of an emergency.

Some of the work planned includes: a review of best practices, existing transportation infrastructure and an estimation of the demand on it in the event of an evacuation; the development of an evacuation plan for Highway 99 that maximizes evacuation capacity while minimizing evac time, as well as one using alternate modes of transportation like rail, ferry, air and forest service roads; detailed operational strategies including traffic management, roles and responsibilities of agencies, public notification and information systems and transportation for those without personal vehicles, and; a detailed decision-making process in the event of a mass evacuation that includes "trigger points," the "go or no-go decision" and how to implement it.

Both the DOS and Village of Pemberton would be invited to join the steering committee for the plan, and population numbers from every community in the corridor would be included in the evacuation planning, said emergency preparedness coordinator Erin Marriner in a presentation to council on Nov. 21.

"We wouldn't be just looking at the south, we'd be looking at going north too. We're really looking at this as looking at every option that we have to get people out efficiently and safely," Marriner said.

The need for a corridor-wide evacuation plan was emphasized by the 2017 wildfire season, which forced more than 45,000 British Columbians from their homes.

With RMOW council's approval, development of the plan will begin immediately, to be in place for the 2018 wildfire season.

"I think in an ideal world it would have been a great thing to have all the communities in the corridor signed up and cost sharing this, but I completely agree with you that we need to get this done before the summer of 2018," said Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden at the meeting.

"It's something that keeps you awake at night if you think about it, and especially last summer when we just saw what was going on in the Cariboo, so I think this is the right way to go."

WHISTLER'S ONLINE MAPPING GETS AN OVERHAUL

On Nov. 14, the RMOW launched a new web map feature called Whistler Map.

The updated site replaces the municipality's previous online mapping tool with newer technology.

"Its aim is to provide the same access to mapping data through enhanced functions and features," Wilhelm-Morden said at the Nov. 21 council meeting.

"(The Geographic Information System) allows users to find geographical detail on zoning boundaries, parcels, hiking and biking tails, cross-country ski trails, parking, parks and utilities such as water and (sanitation)," the mayor said.

"I do encourage you to go and have a look at it. It's really quite cool, and you can find it at www.whistler.ca/maps."

The site also features downloadable PDF maps, and in the coming weeks will be updated to include a map of the snow-cleared sections of the Valley Trail.

BUILDING AND PLUMBING BYLAW

With a change to the provincial Building Act coming into effect on December 15, the RMOW will amend its own Building and Plumbing Regulation Bylaw.

The new provincial Act will make the province the sole authority for establishing and legislating building requirements through the Building Code or other provincial legislation.

After Dec. 15, local governments will no longer have the authority to set building requirements, and must amend their bylaws to remove all locally enacted building requirements.

At the Nov. 21 meeting, council gave first three readings to an amendment bylaw that brings the local legislation in line with that of the province.

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