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Whistler looks for new asphalt bids in face of increasing costs

Council split deepens as asphalt saga continues



Whistler's potholes will be paved this summer but what that work will cost taxpayers and when it will be done remains to be seen.

After demanding that the Whistler plant of Alpine Paving stop its operations by May 13, or face legal action, council was presented this week with a 30 per cent increase in costs to bring the asphalt up from Squamish.

This, despite indications from Mayor Ken Melamed that Alpine Paving will continue operating the Whistler plant beside the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood in the face of the cease and desist order from the municipality.

"We do know that he (owner Frank Silveri) has ordered a new plant and it is going to be installed," said the mayor after the meeting. "We understand that he has existing contracts and it's our assumption that there will be asphalt being produced in Whistler for other contractors.

"He's going ahead with his plans."

Attempts to reach Silveri at both his Burnaby office and the Squamish plant were unsuccessful this week.

Council, however, balked at staff's plans to pay 30 per cent more for the asphalt, and instead sent them back to the drawing board, asking them to go out for tenders on the roughly $1 million in asphalt work slated for 2011.

"I'm not sure we've explored every opportunity to potentially bring the costs down," said Councillor Ralph Forsyth.

The municipality's general manager of environmental services Harry Kim said time is of the essence, with Blackcomb Way, for example, already torn up and in need of asphalt soon.

"We have potholes that we need to fill," explained Kim. "We need asphalt.

"This is one solution that staff has come up with."

The solution was that Alpine Paving would bring the asphalt from its Squamish plant. And though the company quoted a 20 per cent reduction in cost over last year's prices just one month ago, the stipulation that the asphalt come from Squamish brought a 30 per cent increase in cost - 10 per cent higher than 2010.

For taxpayers, that means an extra quarter of a million dollars to cover things like fuel and trucking costs in 2011. Staff has proposed a one time stop-gap measure to fund it from reserves.

"It's not a long term solution," said the mayor Wednesday.

One month ago, staff reported that it had gone out for tender for a portion of the 2011 asphalt work and despite calling seven nearby companies, Alpine Paving was the only bid received.

It is expected to take a couple of weeks before the new tender is closed but despite the delay, Councillor Tom Thomson said he wanted to demonstrate to the constituents that council did everything possible to get the best deal.

Tuesday's debate revealed a deepening fissure at the council table.

After Councillor Eckhard Zeidler commented that the asphalt story "defined this council to the community", an impassioned Councillor Chris Quinlan retorted:

"... This council is not defined by the issue. And I'm sure as hell not defined by this issue... You may wear this as your defining moment Councillor Zeidler."

The tension was also apparent in an exchange between Zeidler and Mayor Ken Melamed, who stated that there would be asphalt production in Whistler this year.

"It is going to be operating," the mayor said of the Whistler plant.

A stunned Zeidler said: "You have information that you might want to share with the community?"

The mayor later clarified that he was basing that comment on Alpine Paving's response to the municipality's cease and desist order. In a letter to the RMOW's lawyers, Silveri outlined why producing asphalt is allowed on the site he has occupied for 14 years.

"We have had dealings with the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) with respect to the asphalt plant over many years," states the letter written to Lidstone and Company, the RMOW's lawyers.

"Your letter is the first suggestion from RMOW that the asphalt plant is operating contrary to the zoning bylaw. We understand that the RMOW has two legal opinions, which say that our operation is not contrary to the zoning bylaw. We are advised that both legal opinions indicate that the asphalt plant is operating legally. Those are the facts.

"We have been advised on numerous occasions by RMOW staff that this zoning (IP1) permits the asphalt plant operation."

When asked after the meeting what actions the municipality may take if the plant continues to operate past May 13, the mayor deferred any comment.

He said: "We're not going to talk about it."

Meanwhile, the potential litigation with Alpine Paving forced another issue to the backburner.

Council decided to defer a decision on a rezoning application that would create a buffer zone between the Whistler Aggregates quarry, which is also owned by Silveri, and the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood.

Part of the deal would see Whistler Aggregates get another section of land in the area to quarry.

"I have to say that I think it's extremely inappropriate to look at a rezoning with a person we may be in litigation with shortly," said Councillor Ted Milner.

A debate ensued and Milner, Zeidler, Lamont and Forsyth voted to defer the decision.

Zeidler said: "There's more to this than meets the eye."