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Voters to have say in sewage plant P3

Ten per cent of voting population could kill project or force a referendum



Whistler voters can have a say in the future of the proposed public/private partnership, which is supposed to deliver multi-million dollar upgrades to the sewage treatment plant.

On Monday night council voted, in a 5 to 2 decision, to move ahead with an Alternative Approval Process (AAP). That means if 10 per cent of the voters in Whistler, which the municipality pinpoints at 892 people, acquire the correct form from municipal hall and submit it by the June 12 deadline the project will either go to referendum or back to the drawing board.

If less than 10 per cent of voters register their concern council can move ahead with the P3 contract, which would see a private operator undertake the two-year upgrades to Whistler’s overtaxed and smelly sewage plant and operate it for 10 years.

Council is required under the Community Charter to hold either an AAP or a referendum because the contract, which will contain capital liabilities on the part of the municipality, is longer than five years. Council chose the AAP.

"It’s council’s hope that by using this test (instead of the referendum) it not only saves money but it also could accelerate the process," explained Mayor Ken Melamed.

A referendum would cost $35,000 and take 90 days, as opposed to the $1,000 AAP.

Time is an important factor, as construction costs are rising so quickly the budget for the work has jumped from $22.3 million last year to $34.4 million this year.

In the AAP, voters can fill out a form at municipal hall or take a copy from the municipal web site, , and drop it off before the June 12 deadline.

This is the latest step in the controversial P3 decision that began with the last council.

Several community members, some holding placards saying "Keep it Public", were in the audience to hear council’s decision Monday night. Among them were representatives from the Council of Canadians and the local chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees – two groups against the P3.

Two councillors voted against the AAP decision. Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who has spoken out against the P3 on several occasions, wanted to go straight to a referendum, forgoing the AAP altogether.

"I don’t think it’s fair, I don’t think it’s democratic and I don’t think it’s accountable," she said of the proposed AAP process.

There was loud clapping from the audience as soon as she stated her position. Mayor Ken Melamed quickly chastised the audience for the outburst, asking them to remain respectful in council chambers.