The year in Pemberton news was not without its controversies, as a handful of issues became hot-button topics of discussion within the community in 2012.
Run-of-river hydro facilities drew the ire of many local residents throughout the year who were opposed to the Upper Lillooet Hydro Project that is expected to obtain provincial approval in early 2013, as well as to Pemberton council’s plans to explore options on a power project for Pemberton Creek.
Meanwhile, the best way to approach the Gates Lake Recreation Facility in Birken was debated for much of the year. That project was ultimately stalled at the end of the calendar, having exposed many issues related to the Pemberton-Area C joint recreation service.
For lawmakers, much of the focus was once again on how to shape the Pemberton Valley going forward, and there were certainly some positive steps made on that front.
The coming year will be an interesting one that could see a shift in the Pemberton Valley’s leadership. Mount Currie will hold elections in the spring, while it’s very possible we may see Mayor Jordan Sturdy running for office in Victoria.
So before we settle in for a potentially newsworthy 2013, here’s a look back at Pemberton’s major headlines of the last year.
Business in Pemberton struggled in 2011 but mostly returned to its pre-Olympic levels after the 2010 Winter Games provided a shot in the arm to the local economy, according to the Pemberton Chamber of Commerce and a sampling of businesses. The post-Olympic year was a struggle for some businesses, especially in the real estate and construction sectors, although that was expected after the boost to the economy in 2010.
Marnie Simon was named the Pemberton Citizen of the Year on Jan. 12 for her extensive volunteer work in the community by the chamber of commerce. Simon has been a resident for six years and is a founding member of the Pemberton Rotary Club, a board trustee for the Pemberton Public Library and chairperson for Friends of the Pemberton Library. She also serves on the board of the Pemberton Valley Seniors Society and Pemberton Paddling Society. Scotiabank was honoured as Pemberton’s best business.
In late January, Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl agreed with local officials that it made more sense for the Pemberton Valley to be in a federal riding with Whistler. Strahl said it would make more sense for Pemberton to share a riding with the rest of the Sea to Sky than like Chilliwack or Lillooet as it does currently. His comments came on the heels of his Conservative government pushing through a bill in the House of Commons that would allot six new seats to B.C., requiring a federal riding realignment. The issue remained a hot topic all year, as the draft alignments that came out in July not only left Pemberton in Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon, it also expanded the riding north to include 100 Mile House while dropping part of Chilliwack.
On Feb. 2, Pemberton Esso operator Karen Ross was elected the new head of the Pemberton and District Chamber of Commerce. Ross had already served on the chamber board for several years, including a stint as vice-president in 2006, and took over the position from Mark Blundell.
The Pemberton Valley Trails Association learned it had secured funding from the Pemberton Valley Utilities and Services Commission (PVUS) to start on a hiking trail that would provide access to the alpine area on Mount Currie. PVUS awarded $45,000 to the trail association, of which $20,000 was matching funds slated for the development of the trail. Mayor Jordan Sturdy said he expects the trail, which would start near the Green River Motocross Park, to boost tourism in Pemberton.
Mountain Equipment Co-op would provide an additional $10,000 towards the project later in the year.
On Feb. 7, the Village of Pemberton acquired a the old B.C. Rail station on Frontier Street for $285,000. The building is considered to be a key component of the village’s downtown revitalization efforts, which were revisited more in-depth in the spring.
Pemberton council learned March 6 that construction could begin on the proposed Upper Lillooet Hydro Project by early 2013. The project, which has faced opposition from local residents, calls for three run-of-river generation facilities on bodies of water 60 kilometres northwest of Pemberton, as well as a 72-km transmission line that would connect to the power station at Rutherford Creek. Project manager Natalie Closs said that Creek Power Inc., of which the majority shareholder is Innergex Renewable Energy Inc., anticipates receiving a construction certificate from the province in early 2013 if all goes according to plan.
The Lil’wat Nation and the province signed documents March 15 that officially brought management plans into effect for three conservancies located on traditional Lil’wat territory. Together, the three conservancies total nearly 11,000 hectares (110 square kilometres) of land. According to draft management plans of the three areas, there are multiple objectives that the Province and Lil’wat Nation hope to achieve within the conservancies, but the major focus will be sustaining and promoting traditional Lil’wat use of the land. The Qwalímak/Upper Birkenhead Conservancy, K’zuzált/Twin Two Conservancy and Mkwal’ts Conservancy encompass the watersheds of the Upper Birkenhead River, Twin Two Creek and Ure Creek, which all flow into Lillooet Lake.
Mayor Jordan Sturdy went public with his concerns over development in Whistler’s Rainbow subdivision on March 18. Sturdy said he expected that the grocery store and gas station planned for the area would hurt Pemberton’s economy significantly, as it would establish another retail location on the way north to the Spud Valley.
Local RCMP committed in mid-April to resuming the search for two hikers that went missing from the Pemberton area more than a year before. Vancouver residents Jonathan Jette and Rachael Bagnall went missing in September 2010, and despite multiple searches near the Cassiope and Saxifrage peaks north of the village where they were thought to be hiking, they have never been found. Jette’s mother, Lise Grenier was in Pemberton in August 2011 when two separate search parties went out looking for anything that might indicate what happened to the couple, but rescuers came up empty handed. The grieving mother expressed her frustration in April that no evidence had yet turned up. Police made further inquires in September but again found no clues to their whereabouts.
“They just vanished and everyone knows that is impossible,” she told The Question.
In April, village staff reported to council on the continued Downtown Enhancement Strategy and its efforts to pursue further grant funding to help with some of the larger components planned for the future. Most notably, the village hoped to attract funding from Farm Credit Canada to complete the community barn that was first proposed for Frontier Street in 2010. The estimated cost of the project is $1.44 million.
At the end of April, it was discovered that the SLRD had been overcharging transfer station users for at least the previous year. SLRD officials said a “misinterpretation” of the bylaw setting tipping fees led to the incorrect rates. The station was incorrectly charging users more than the minimum charge for the drop-off of multiple garbage bags.
Pemberton council achieved the reserves it was hoping to see in this year’s budget by implementing a four-per-cent tax increase for 2012 that was finalized during a May 8 meeting. A three-per-cent increase in water and sewer rates was also given approved at the same meeting. An earlier draft budget called for a two-per-cent hike but councilors at that time expressed concern that no money was earmarked for reserves.
Mayor Jordan Sturdy said the four-per-cent increase was necessary to build up reserves while keeping up with inflation. He said directing money towards reserves would ensure that Pemberton doesn’t miss out on future opportunities for infrastructure and matching funding or equipment purchases. When looking ahead to the financial picture in 2013, Sturdy noted that there will already be an expected revenue increase and lower expenditures based on items related to a boundary expansion.
SLRD staff was directed to submit a Community Charging Infrastructure grant application on May 28 for the installation of two electric vehicle charging stations.
The Pemberton Community Centre was the proposed site of the stations. The Province announced its new $2.74-million fund in early May with the goal of establishing more than 550 public charging stations across B.C. Later in the year, when budget strain made it difficult for the SLRD to pursue the grant, the village submitted an application of its own and was approved for two stations to be installed.
The SLRD, in partnership with two nature-focused groups, announced on June 5 that it had acquired the Fulton Lands near Pemberton, a 67-acre property considered vital to recreation and conservation in the valley.
The SLRD, Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Nature Trust of British Columbia jointly purchased the land from the Fulton family. The parcel already included an extensive trail network, as well as environmentally-sensitive wetland areas that are now guaranteed protection in the future. Owned by the Fulton family since the 1960s, the property is bordered by the Lillooet River to the west and the CN rail line to the south. The three partners purchased the land for approximately $420,000.
The SLRD board on June 25 put the brakes on plan to spend about $400,000 to renovate a house in Birken and turn it into a community centre, after some residents raised concerns about the project.Eight people attended the June 25 SLRD meeting in Pemberton to express their concerns that the site, which has become known as the Gates Lake facility, was the wrong space for a community centre.
Residents from D’Arcy and Birken have long called for a central gathering place in the area, which led to the SLRD’s purchase of the facility for $365,000 in 2010. There are lots of young families in the area, and for many, it’s not feasible to drive 40 minutes to Pemberton for community programs, said Area C director Gimse.
A new proposal for the Gates Lake facility, which would include a 5,000-square foot community hall constructed next to the existing structure owned by the SLRD, was presented to the public during an open house on July 24. Area C director Gimse said the new proposal took into consideration the feedback received at the earlier public consultation meeting. The new proposal would focus less on retrofitting the existing building for community use, and with the addition of a community hall, the projected capital costs increased by approximately $75,000.
Feedaback from the July 24 open house was mixed, with members of the public divided over what the future Birken facility should look like.
Some said they wanted the earlier plans to retrofit the Gates House building to be considered, while others pushed for an entirely new site for the building.
The idea of building a facility on the Birken Fire Hall site was brought up again at the community meeting. Members of the Birken Fire Protection Society were on hand to illustrate a number of problems with adding to the property, including B.C. Hyrdo right of ways, steep terrain and the potential for interference with fire department operations. A motion to recommend PVUS reconsider the site as an alternative was defeated by a split 2-2 vote.
The Pemberton Valley was struck by the tragic deaths of two visitors in the month of August.
On Aug. 6, Seattle resident John Clifford drowned in the Lillooet River while competing in the Canadian Paragliding National Championships. Pilot error and poor weather conditions, or a combination of both, were speculated as the potential causes of the accident among those close to the event. Clifford, 55, was survived by a wife and 5-year-old daughter.
On Aug. 17, White Rock’s Ben Trompetter jumped into Anderson Lake from a cliff more than 50 metres above the water and never resurfaced. His body was found on Aug. 19. The 26-year-old, who was an experienced cliff jumper, was remembered as a “free spirit” by co-workers with the Beach Travellers travel agency.
Two Mount Currie families were left homeless after an Aug. 16 duplex fire on Lakeview Drive that completely destroyed the building. Just two of the 11 people who lived in the duplex were home at the time, and the teenaged girls were able to escape the house without injury after a neighbour noticed smoke and alerted them. The community rallied to support the two displaced families with a slew of donations coming in, while two bingo fundraisers were held within 48 hours of the blaze.
The SLRD board voted at its Aug. 27 meeting to suspend all work on the controversial Gates Lake Recreation Facility in Birken. Other directors from outside the Pemberton-Area C joint recreation service expressed frustration with the project, prompting Area C director Gimse to say that “the service is in trouble.” Mayor Sturdy wouldn’t go as far as to call the service “broken,” but agreed that the service was “not running optimally.”
Local officials and residents attending the Sept. 11 federal riding alignment hearing in Squamish came away encouraged that the Pemberton Valley will be in a more appropriate electoral district for the next election. Mayor Sturdy and Area C director Gimse both made presentations at the hearing, requesting that the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for B.C. (FEBC) reverse its draft plan to keep Pemberton-area residents in the Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon riding. Both made the case that their constituents should be in a riding with the rest of the Sea to Sky corridor. Earlier in the year, FEBC chair John Hall told The Question he was “very open” to that request.
The Lil’wat Nation announced that it would begin independent taxation starting in 2013. Mount Currie director of economic development Kerry Mehaffey explained that community members would not be taxed, but that the band had the provincial authority to “collect taxes on leases, utilities and encumbrances on reserve land currently being collected by other jurisdictions.”
The Pemberton Valley Trails Association announced in late September that it planned to begin construction on the Mount Currie hiking trail. It succeeded in its goal to have the first quarter of the eight-km trail open by the winter, as it unveiled the first two km in late autumn.
The Pemberton Valley Utilities and Services committee voted to accept a one-year lease with the Sea to Sky School District to use the fields at the site of the old Meadows Community Centre, which was demolished earlier in the year. The SLRD had been seeking a long-term lease with an eye to making improvements to the field, but the school district was reluctant to make such a deal as it determines its own future use of the property.
The Pemberton Valley received excellent news in mid-October in the form of a federal gas tax grant that should eventually provide a legal, non-motorized crossing of the Lillooet River and allow for one of the major components of the long-awaited Friendship Trail. Nearly $370,000 was awarded to Pemberton and Area C to construct a suspension bridge over the river, which would eliminate the need for residents to use the CN crossing illegally. However, lawmakers are still hoping to acquire an additional $300,000 to $500,000 for the project so a bridge can be built that will accommodate horse traffic.
Jordan Sturdy announced at the end of October that he would be seeking the B.C. Liberal Party nomination for the West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding. The three-term mayor will hope to fill the vacancy left by current MLA Joan McIntyre, who announced earlier in the year that she did not intend to seek re-election when the province goes to the polls in 2013. Official nominations for the party are expected to take place early in the new year.
On Nov. 6, council voted to develop a Request for Expression of Interest for a community power project on Pemberton Creek, a long-term goal of council going back several years. The village had attempted to secure funding through P3 Canada for the project, but learned earlier in the year that its application was not invited for the next round of consideration.
The decision became a controversy over the final weeks of 2012, with some local residents opposed to run-of-river power projects criticizing the move.
The Pemberton Multicultural Network hosted the very first Pemberton Multicultural Week in mid-November to coincide with the provincially-declared Multiculturalism Week and stage an event similar to the successful one seen in Whistler. Pemberton residents of all different backgrounds put some of their culture’s food, performance art and games on display, with most of the activity taking place on Nov. 17 at the community centre.
Mark Blundell was named one of the winners of a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in November. The owner of Pemberton Valley Supermarket and former village councillor was honoured for his years of contributions and volunteerism in the community.
Council was presented with a petition signed by more than 100 community members at its Dec. 4 council meeting, requesting a reversal of the decision to develop an RFEI to pursue a power project on Pemberton Creek. Sturdy reminded the packed gallery that the intent of the RFEI is to see what options were out there for the village, one of which would be to preserve the area as it is.
Also at that meeting, council gave initial readings to a bylaw that would give the village legal right to cut off water supply to the Pemberton North Water System at the end of 2013, hopeful that it would spark negotiations with the SLRD over a $449,000 balance owing since 2007. However, council deferred adoption of the bylaw later in the month, with plans to further negotiate with the regional district before giving it final reading.
Sturdy announced on Dec. 18 that the Agricultural Land Commission had agreed to a new MOU on the Pemberton Festival grounds that permits any event producer to use the site. The previous agreement between the village, SLRD and ALC stipulated that only Live Nation, producers of the 2008 festival, could host an event on the property.
—with files from Brandon Barrett