Whistler council has decided not to appeal last month's ruling that the Whistler Aggregates asphalt plant in Cheakamus Crossing is permitted to stay. Instead, council voted to work with plant owner Frank Silveri in finding an agreeable solution for all involved.
The news came two days before the 30-day deadline for appeal following the ruling by Justice Kloegman of the Supreme Court on Jan. 31, and two weeks after it was revealed that the asphalt plant issue has cost the RMOW close to $600,000 over the past three years.
"We recognized that litigation wasn't going to achieve what the end goal is, and that is, and continues to be, moving the asphalt plant out of the neighbourhood and ending the quarry operations as well," explained Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden on Monday (Feb. 27). "So we obviously need Mr. Silveri's cooperation to do those things."
According to Wilhelm-Morden, the decision was arrived upon by council following a lengthy deliberation process, and after taking to heart what members of the community had to say on the topic.
"We had several meetings about what to do next," she explained. "It was a very long and serious consultative process that we went through and I think it's safe to say a lot of us lost some sleep over this issue."
Moving forward, Wilhelm-Morden said she hopes to work with Silveri to improve the quality of life for the residents. He has already agreed to install a "state-of-the-art" mobile plant operation just in time for 2012 production.
"The new plant is consistent with the plants that currently operate in Metro Vancouver," said Silveri in a press release issued by the municipality. "It meets the stringent air quality standards set in Metro Vancouver and will ensure a noticeable improvement for the neighbourhood. Further, I am looking forward to working in good faith to find solutions which meet the needs of all parties."
Silveri's cooperation, said Wilhelm-Morden, is a step in the right direction.
"He was obviously interested in knowing if we were going to appeal the decision because that would entail more effort and legal fees on his side," said Wilhelm-Morden. "He was very positive in hearing that we were not going to appeal and he's looking forward to working with us in good faith to achieve the goals."
Along with the announcement, the RMOW also revealed that the Whistler 2020 Development Corporation (WDC), which developed the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood, has agreed to initiate discussions with Silveri about improving the quality of life for residents adjacent to the operation.
"We also thought we could receive some help from Whistler 2020 Development Corp. and they obviously have a vested interest in the neighbourhood," said Wilhelm-Morden. "They had asked previously to stay out of this issue, but we think it's most appropriate for them to become involved."
When asked about the legal reasons for not appealing, Wilhelm-Morden said while an appeal may have removed the asphalt plant some years from now, it still would not have addressed the issue of the quarry, also operated by Silveri at the current site.
"Even if we won on appeal we would have had to go back in front of the same trial judge to talk about getting an injunction and then the whole negligent misrepresentation thing would come up," she explained about how past councils may have presented the issue to Silveri. "So it seems from the trial judge's perspective, based on the judgment we've received already, she's sympathetic to Whistler Aggregates. So going the long litigation route and spending the amount of money that had to be spent on legal fees with a very uncertain result just didn't seem the way to go."
For Tim Koshul, head of the No Asphalt Plant group in Cheakamus Crossing, the decision to not appeal wasn't a surprise - but the prospect of the plant's continued presence in the neighbourhood is still disappointing.
"There's a range of emotions from within the neighbourhood expressing disappointment and anger," said Koshul about the response to the decision. "I kind of expected it to come this way for a while, so I prepared myself emotionally for it and I understand that because it would only deal with the plant and not the quarry, which is the ultimate goal."
Despite the decision, Koshul has faith that the current mayor and council will continue working towards that goal.
"I've looked in the eyes of some of those on council and I believe they are honest in working to get rid of all of this," said Koshul. "It's too bad the people that came before them didn't."
Wilhelm-Morden also confirmed that council is still looking at a three-year deadline to solve the asphalt issue, as per the Council Action Plan unveiled last week.
"Yes; this isn't going to happen overnight, it's going to take some time to work towards that goal," she said.