By Alison Taylor
Council summoned its top cop to the hot seat Monday night, calling for an explanation of the events that shut down Whistler’s highway for up to a dozen hours last week.
By way of introduction RCMP Inspector Norm McPhail read aloud portions of a report detailing the events of the wintry night of Thursday Dec. 14 to council.
Two councillors — Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and Eckhard Zeidler — were stuck in separate cars that night, along with thousands of other motorists, as a winter storm wreaked havoc on the road around them.
After watching the weather get worse, more and more cars slide off the road, and motorists walk around the highway drinking booze to pass the time, Wilhelm-Morden, who spent nine hours in her car, didn’t mince her words to McPhail.
“It was a completely unacceptable event,” she said. “The longer we were stuck on that road, the worse it got.”
She disagreed with McPhail’s assertion that it was a “unique” situation as several events conspired against police, snowplow drivers and emergency personnel one after another, frustrating everyone.
It was not unique said Wilhelm-Morden. The forecast for a winter storm, set to dump snow on the corridor, was bang on.
She had several questions: why was there no officer at Alice Lake to turn back cars without the proper equipment? What was the RCMP’s communication plan to the radio station? How many plows were available to respond? What is the RCMP’s call out to get those plows on site?
If this was February 2010 during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the whole world would have seen that Whistler can’t deal with snow, she added.
McPhail apologized to the councillor for her nine-hour ordeal. He explained that police closed the road and were turning back traffic but only after hundreds of cars were already on the highway.
The issue, he said, is how to deal with irresponsible drivers who are not properly equipped to cope with the driving conditions.
In 2010, he added, they could have 20 to 30 more officers to deal with a situation like this.
“We did the best we could with the resources we have,” he said, adding that the corridor was not alone in responding to emergencies that night.
He also said the police gave regular updates to Mountain FM.
Zeidler said he was one of the lucky ones, getting back to Whistler around midnight, after leaving Squamish at 3 p.m.
While he had some positive experiences during the ordeal, seeing people help each other out, he said the experience should provide a base case for stakeholders to address future events, which he said are sure to come with the changing weather patterns on the West Coast.
A debriefing is planned for the New Year to examine the events of Dec. 14.