Little support at open house for Pemberton power project

Residents march in protest of pursuing development on Pemberton creek

There was minimal public support expressed for developing a power project of any kind on Pemberton Creek at Thursday night's (April 25) public information session.

Members of the community attended Signal Hill Elementary School to find out more details of the proposals to develop a power project on Pemberton Creek. The Village of Pemberton issued a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) in February with a deadline of March 28.

However, no specific details of any of the seven proposals received through that process were presented at the open house session, which was a cause for concern for many who attended to learn more about those proposals.

Village of Pemberton Chief Administrative Officer Daniel Sailland said the consultation session, facilitated by the Whistler Centre for Sustainability, was meant to provide a summary of what has been received through the RFEI.

"We are not actually presenting the entire proposals," Sailland said. "What we have done is we have distilled the seven into three general themes so that we can get some high level comment back, but really this is about setting the stage for what future dialogue looks like in the community."

Before the open house, members of the community gathered in Pioneer Park and then led a protest march to the school.

Amica Antonelli said she is against the idea of a power project on the creek because the environmental effects are not justified. She also expressed concern over whether there is a need for more hydro projects in the province.

"I am here because I am concerned about the sale of our rivers to private power companies to generate energy we pay 40 times the price for when we don't need it," Antonelli said. "I would like the Village to acknowledge that there is a lot of people who do not want IPPs in their community and close this process."

Two of the four general themes presented included a power plant being developed on the creek. The first is a project controlled and developed by an independent company with the Village of Pemberton having a percentage of ownership, depending upon how much it invests. Estimated tax revenue is $39,600 for every $10 million of assessed value. However, annual revenues for Pemberton could be up to $800,000 within 10 years.

Residents were overwhelmingly unsupportive of the independently controlled power plant option with a informal poll showing 70 against and two in favour of that option. Concerns expressed included environmental ones and the fact that the project would be owned and operated by a private company.

The second option was a community controlled power project, which included similar revenues of $800,000. This option would see the municipality own at minimum a 51 per cent stake in the project and take the lead in its development before considering entering into partnerships with other organizations like the Lil'wat Nation. Costs to explore this option range between $200,000 and $400,000 and if developed it would require a minimum $8 million cash investment up front and a $32 million loan amortized over 30 years to fund the project.

Community feedback to this option was also overwhelmingly unsupportive due to similar concerns as an independently owned project. While there was some support for the idea that the Village would be in control, others felt that might put the local government at risk if it fails.

That is something that concerned Pemberton resident Doug Helmer.

"I don't think the Village should take that kind of risk," he said. "I am completely opposed to this."

Furthermore, said Helmer, he feels the municipality is evading the main question it should have put to the community before going through an RFEI in the first place.

"They have never asked do you want a power project at all or the creek left wild," he said. "That question has never been asked."

That's something that concerns Holly Glenn as well, who said she is angry about the process the Village has taken on this issue.

"Why go through a Request for Expressions of Interest if the majority of people don't want it," she said.

For Fred Provost, his main concern is that Pemberton Creek is the source of the community's drinking water and for that reason he is opposed to any industrial activity on or near the waterway.

"I don't understand why or how you can start running an excavator or bury a pipe of any diameter beside our creek," he said. "Is it really worth the risk (to our water supply)?"

Provost said in his opinion the best value for the community is to leave the creek as it is right now.

"I understand it is their due diligence," he said with respect to the consultation process. "But I am here to show them that the public does not want this."

The last two concept options presented to the public were an open concept, where people were able to suggest anything they would like to see and one that would develop the trail system along the creek and waterfall as a tourism amenity.

The open concept saw the majority of people say they would like to keep the as it is, while the trail system concept received some support.

The concept came from a submission through the RFEI from Helmer himself, who said he wanted an option that would protect the creek.

"I did it to stand up for the trail and what's there, the wild river and the waterfall," he said.

Sailland said council has not yet made a decision on the project, and indicted going through an RFEI does not bind the municipality to developing a power project on the creek.

"The issuance of a Request for Expressions of Interest does not bind the Village to proceed with a project, nor does it bind the Village to work with any of those who submitted a concept or an idea," he said. "It does not bind us to any action other than to seek more information and to better understand a particular issue."

Sailland said staff will use the information gathered at the information session to draft a report that will be presented to council in June. The comments received at the open house and those submitted online or through letters will also be provided to council at that time along with the actual RFEI submissions.

"With the information generated council will be in a position to provide some direction to staff on steps relevant to the initiative and will likely provide comment," he said.

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