While preparations for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games dominated the news in Whistler in 2009, there were a few non-Olympic fires for Whistler lawmakers to put out during the past 12 months - and a couple of real ones for B.C. Forestry and local crews to douse during a tinder-dry summer.
Controversies over parking at the Whistler Conference Centre underground and the proximity of an operating asphalt plant next to the new Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhod were just two of the hot potatoes dropped in Whistler council's lap.
The retirement of Whistler Blackcomb pioneer Hugh Smythe in March and the passing of former mayor Ted Nebbeling also made news in 2009.
Without further ado, here's a summary of 2009 as reported in the pages of The Question:
The year began on a tragic note: with the deaths of two people in "beyond boundary" avalanches within a 24-hour period on Blackcomb and Whistler mountains, respectively. Local resident and skier Steven Clark, 37, died in a permanently closed area below Ruby Bowl on Blackcomb, while the body of snowboarder Aaron Fauchon, 26, a snowboarder who most recently lived in Hinton, Alta., was located in an area called Hidden Chute in the Symphony Bowl area on Whistler.
With Tourism Whistler (TW) projecting a decrease of around 10 per cent for the winter of 2008-09, no one in the resort expected to see record business over the 2008 Christmas-New Year's period. But anecdotally, at least, some business owners said that without having crunched the final numbers, they expected the decline as compared to the previous two seasons to be smaller than had been anticipated.
The jury in the murder trial of a Surrey man accused in the 2007 shooting death of a Coquitlam man in Whistler's Village Square heard graphic details about the case as the trial into the slaying of Michael George Boutros got underway on Jan. 12 in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. Shane Robert Joseph Richard, who was serving as a bodyguard for a convicted drug dealer when the incident occurred on March 10, 2007, was charged with second-degree murder. After a three-week trial, the jury found Richard guilty and he was sentenced to serve 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole for 15 years.
Fans who attended the FIS Nordic Festival at Whistler Olympic Park in mid-January were treated to great weather and heart-pumping action at cross-country skiing and Nordic combined World Cup competitions, and something else: The chance to be part of the action through something called Whistler MUSE (Multi-screen Urban Shared Experience). The pilot project, being carried out by Resort TV with support from Tourism Whistler and the municipality, aimed to provide a fun, interactive environment using hand-held devices including Blackberries and cell phones on what one official called "an ecology of screens" - i.e. large screens such as those found in sports venues, the hand-held devices' small screens and even the medium-sized ones of off-site computers and TV screens.
Whistler hotels feeling the squeeze of the recession began laying off staff in early January, with the Fairmont Chateau Whistler announcing on Jan. 19 that it had laid off about 20 people and others - including the Four Seasons, Hilton and Pan Pacific - laying off an unspecified number. Roger Soane, GM of the Fairmont, said he believed the hotel's total staffing level - normally around 550 in mid-winter - was down to between 490 and 500. "It is difficult," he said of the most recent layoffs.
Though Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games organizers (VANOC) had yet to confirm it, Whistler lawmakers on Jan. 27 were already reacting to the impending word that, in the words of Councillor Eckhard Zeidler, "the medals presentations are gone and they're not coming back." As expected, on Jan. 30, VANOC issued a revised budget that included medals presentations at the venues, not at the Whistler Celebration Plaza. VANOC officials later said the move would save money. Months later, at the insistence of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), VANOC reversed that decision, much to the delight of Whistler Village business owners.
Many members of Whistler's faith community fondly remembered the contributions of Rev. Dr. Gordon Turner, who died suddenly on Jan. 19. Turner, 69, led monthly services at the Whistler Village Church and sat on the board of the Whistler Interfaith Society. He also was affectionately referred to as Vancouver's Jazz Priest in recognition of his creation of the Jazz Vespers service at St. Andrew's-Wesley Church.
Shane Robert Joseph Richard, from Surrey, was found guilty on Jan. 30 of second-degree murder in the March 2007 shooting death of Michael George Boutros of Coquitlam in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. The shooting had occurred after an altercation between two groups of men in Whistler's Village Square. It was Whistler's first murder in 26 years. Boutros' parents, meanwhile, were critical of B.C. Ambulance Service over the amount of time it took an ambulance to reach their son after the shooting. While the court record said 30 minutes elapsed between the shooting and ambulance crews arriving, ambulance dispatch records showed it took only 10 minutes. The discrepancy has never been fully explained.
Canadian Forces troops will be encamped at six temporary facilities while they provide security or the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, an official with the forces told The Question on Feb. 3. Lt. Col. Graham Thornton said the plan was to have troops camped along Cypress Bowl Road, at Squamish Airport, on the Canadian Snowmobile Adventures site in the Callaghan Valley, in the Whistler Aggregate quarry behind the Whistler athletes' village and at two Ministry of Transportation gravel quarries at Cal-Cheak and Twin Rivers, between Whistler and Pemberton.
The world arrived in Whistler in early February for a number of World Cup competitions, as well as the one-year Olympic Games countdown celebrations, giving Whistlerites and officials a taste of the real thing in early February. In addition to athletes and spectators, representatives of international media outlets were here, and Canadian athletes such as Whistler's own Ashleigh McIvor took part in the countdown celebrations. As well, local officials hosted a delegation from Sochi (Russia) 2014 Winter Olympics organizing committee, including Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who were here to tour the Whistler facilities.
An official with the Whistler Interfaith Society on Feb. 10 said he expected the society to meet a March 5 deadline for transferring ownership of Millennium Place to the municipality, avoiding foreclosure on the building. Society members conceded that it wasn't possible to raise the $3.2 million still owing on the building before the deadline imposed by Whistler council. The continued fundraising efforts were previously cited as a reason the society wanted to delay the transfer.
More than a year after temporary housing was first seriously considered in Whistler, construction on the Whistler Workforce project finally began in mid-February. While the proponent said he's "extremely happy" to finally see construction begin, the economic downturn and layoffs at some Whistler businesses caused some employers who had earlier expressed their desire to use some of the 300-plus beds planned on the Holborn site near the Whistler Racquet Club.
A problem at Whistler's new composting facility in the Callaghan Valley resulted in almost 100 tonnes of sewage sludge, a.k.a. biosolids, from Squamish being dumped into the Squamish landfill. One of the two compost tunnels at the $13.77 million facilities was shut down for about 10 days after one of the trays full of organic waste buckled and got stuck halfway through the tunnel. As a result, some biosolids that were supposed to be made to compost had to be turned away, said Brian Barnett, Whistler's general manager of environmental services.
At least 15 local families were sent scrambling to find alternate child care after Whistler Children's Centre officials announced that they were closing the Spring Creek daycare facility because of budgetary pressures. The closure of the Bear Cubs program represented the third Children's Centre program to close in the past three months. Stacey Royal, Children's Centre Society board member, acknowledged that the cutbacks were having a "huge impact" on local families, but added that the board felt it had little choice but to close the facility.
Whistler Blackcomb (WB) officials handed an unspecified number of seasonal ski instructors their layoff notices on Feb. 22, saying the economic downturn and decline in destination visitors to the resort left WB without enough work to support those instructors. Carla Dursi, an Argentinean who had a five-month contract to work at the resort, told The Question that because they were here on foreign work visas, she and her husband had no choice but to go home - and pay a $300 flight re-booking penalty. What's more, she wasn't sure where they were going to live until the end of March because their home in Argentina was rented out until then.
Hugh Smythe, the Whistler Blackcomb executive who started out as a ski patroller on Whistler Mountain shortly after it opened in the 1960s, and was a key figure in the opening of Blackcomb and later in the merging of the two mountains, announced his retirement after 43 years in the business. Colleagues hailed Smythe, a key player in virtually every significant milestone in the development of the ski resort, for his vision and dedication to the industry. His last official day was March 12.
Whistler's child-care crisis deepened on March 3 when officials at MY Millennium Place announced the impending closure of Teddy Bear Daycare as of May 31. Whistler Blackcomb, which had a one-year contract to run the daycare through the end of June, decided to close it a month early because many parents, knowing it was set to close, were reluctant to enroll their children on a short-term basis. Millennium Place Society officials, meanwhile, said they could only offer WB a one-year contract because they felt the building's long-term mandate was as a centre for arts and culture.
With one year until the start of the Paralympic Games on March 12, 2010, those involved in the effort to promote accessibility for all in the resort said that while deficiencies remain, they're encouraged by the progress that has been made. Among the most significant achievements to date have been improvements to the information available to those with disabilities about the resort's offerings and the creation of a comprehensive map showing access points, wheelchair-accessible facilities, etc. One of the major obstacles that remained was at the Gondola Transit Loop, where no direct wheelchair access was available between there and Skiers Approach. A municipal official said he was exploring prospects for an elevator to provide wheelchair access at that point.
Officials on March 11 urged Sea to Sky corridor residents to prepare for "life as unusual" during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. In the first phase of the 2010 Transportation Plan roll-out, officials said that while major road closures and parking restrictions will be in place during the Games, a vastly expanded public transit system will help people get around. The Sea to Sky Highway will be open, but with a check stop at the Alice Lake turnoff. Residents approaching that point in their vehicles will be asked to present proof of residence in the corridor and confirm that they have parking arranged. More information about transportation was to be provided in the summer.
Councillor Ralph Forsyth on March 17 chastised his fellow lawmakers for their decision to delay action on the impending closure of Teddy Bear Daycare, saying, "You have assured the closure of the daycare. God help us - what about the families in this town?" Forsyth had sought to ask municipal staff to try to secure a long-term lease for a third-party operator to take over the daycare, but his motion was tabled. Mayor Ken Melamed argued that the municipality can't go against a lease agreement with the Millennium Place Society. "It's not ours to control," he said.
Former Whistler Chamber of Commerce president Louise Lundy on March 16 started work as interim general manager of Millennium Place, replacing outgoing GM Dennis Marriott.
Joshua Anderson and Willie Lewis, both 26, front-line managers at the Squamish Li'wat Cultural Centre, were honoured on March 19 with the Young Adult Achievement Award, presented by the Aboriginal Tourism Association of B.C. in Vancouver. Anderson is a member of the Lil'wat Nation while Lewis is a Squamish Nation member.
Officials with the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) on March 24 said they were investigating two local dogsled operations after complaints that some dogs for at least one of the companies appeared to be malnourished. "The SPCA's not happy with the way these dogs are being kept," said SPCA investigator Eileen Drever. One of the complainants said she went on a tour provided by Blackcomb Snowmobiles in January and the dogs "were little skeletons" that cowered when approached. The contractor who provides the service to Blackcomb told The Question that the dogs were being fed five times per day and said that while they may appear lean, they are athletic dogs and are "right around the decent weight" for sled dogs. Blackcomb Snowmobiles officials said they were cooperating fully with the SPCA probe.
Shane McConkey, a freeskiing pioneer with strong Whistler ties, died on March 26 while filming a stunt involving BASE (Building, Antenna, Span, Earth) jumping on skis off a 600-metre cliff in Italy. Even though friend and fellow freeskier Mike Douglas knew McConkey was prone to taking risks, he said the news came as "a shock. My head just hit the table." McConkey passing drew tributes from across the skiing world, including one blogger who wrote that, "It feels like Superman died." He was credited with having created the reverse-sidecut ski, among other innovations. "Pretty much everything you see on the hill probably started with one of his wacky ideas," Douglas said.
Local politicians were surprised on March 31 to learn that 2010 Winter Olympics medal ceremonies, pulled off the table by VANOC in late January in a move to save money, were back on the table for discussion at the end of March. VANOC CEO John Furlong revealed at the end of a visit by the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Coordination Commission that discussions were ongoing, and that officials hoped to announce a final decision soon.
Bruce Dean, president of Whistler Brewing Co., on April 2 announced plans for the company to begin brewing and bottling at least some of its product at what was then Whistler Transit maintenance facility in Function Junction. The move (B.C. Transit was in the process of building a new bus facility near Nesters) was part of a plan to increase the association that customers make between the Whistler Brewing brand and the resort - similar to the way many people associate Corona beer with good times and Mexico. The company's target was to begin producing a percentage of its products here, with the remainder being produced at a brewing facility in Kamloops, Dean said.
As expected, VANOC and RMOW officials on April 7 announced the return of the Olympic medal ceremonies to the Whistler Celebration Plaza during the 2010 Games, six weeks after RMOW officials had declared, "They're gone and they're not coming back." While Mayor Melamed said he was "pleased" with the decision, he also described the back-and-forth on the issue as "wearisome."
In just the latest round of cutbacks at Whistler Blackcomb (WB), officials announced that year-round, salaried employees were being rolled back to 2008 levels and that incentives would not be paid this year. While he declined to provide dollar figures, Dave Brownlie, WB president and chief operating officer, on April 14 said skier visits were off by 15 to 16 per cent for the 2008-'09 season - even though things had picked up in recent weeks. Tourism Whistler officials, meanwhile, said hotel room nights were off 11 per cent as of the end of February.
RCMP Insp. Norm McPhail, who was posted to the Sea to Sky corridor on three separate occasions over the past 20 years, was on his way to Victoria to become the RCMP's liaison officer to the provincial government as part of the Criminal Justice Reform Secretariat.
Austin Grabowski, a 12-year-old Australian who has twice survived cancer, saw snow for the first time and was declared a "pretty good" skier by his Whistler Blackcomb ski instructor during a visit to Whistler organized by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Grabowski, who is from Adelaide, said his wish was to visit Canada, and specifically Whistler, because he wanted to see snow and try skiing - and because his grandfather had been here and told him so much about it. The youngster and his mother were given the VIP treatment, staying at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler and taking part in a tour with Ziptrek during their visit.
The leaders of the Whistler Arts Council and Millennium Place Society on April 21 received the support of Whistler council to move forward with plans to merge into one organization to support arts and culture in Whistler. The merger, which would likely take place in 2010, would see the two merge office spaces, consolidate office equipment and share staff, officials said.
Talks involving Vancouver 2010 Games organizers (VANOC) and the Sea to Sky School District over Games-time use of Whistler Secondary School broke off after it became clear that the money being offered by VANOC wasn't sufficient to meet the district's needs, officials announced on April 27. No further negotiations were planned, and both groups said they were pursuing other options - the district for another group to rent the school, which will be closed during the Games, and VANOC for securing Games-time workforce accommodation.
Less than a week after notifying Whistler residents about a plan to change neighbourhood mailing addresses by requiring a post-office box number, Canada Post officials on April 28 backed away from the plan in the face of public pressure. The plan, which officials said was being "put on hold" and reviewed, an official said. Canada Post officials said the plan was meant to improve service for permanent Whistler residents by reducing the number of boxes that were "sitting idle" as a result of transient residents leaving town. But Dr. Cathryn Zeglinski, who led the fight to reverse the decision, argued that the amount of time it would have taken to notify all contacts of the address change, and for small businesses to change letterheads, business cards and website information, would have been "quite staggering." A week later, Canada officials announced that they had scrapped the plan altogether.
Run-of-river power, the carbon tax and spending accountability were among the issues that divided the three people seeking to represent the West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding at a provincial election candidates' forum on May 2 at Whistler Secondary School. Incumbent Joan McIntyre, a Liberal, squared off against New Democrat Juliana Buitenhuis and Green Party hopeful Jim Stephenson at the forum, part of a campaign leading up to the May 12 election.
McIntyre easily won re-election as the Sea to Sky corridor's representative in the B.C. legislature. She finished with 9,512 votes (54.75 per cent) compared to 4,001 (23.03 per cent) for Buitenhuis and 3,862 (22.23 per cent) for Stephenson. The results marked a slight improvement at the polls for McIntyre, who was first elected to the post in 2005 with just over 50 per cent of the vote.
Officials with Whistler Blackcomb and the Resort Municipality of Whistler expressed confidence that talks aimed at reaching a deal on the long-term future of the Teddy Bear Daycare would bear fruit. The daycare was set to close at the end of May unless a new arrangement could be found. One of the main issues holding up a deal was a provision in the Community Charter stipulating that muncipal governments could not lease facilities at less than market rates, officials said.
Sea to Sky School District trustees on May 13 voted to keep Whistler Secondary School closed for 17 school days during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, in spite of a formal request from the school's parent advisory council that they reduce the closure to 10 days - only during the Games themselves. A parent survey showing most favoured the 10-day closure, while school staff favoured staying with the 17-day closure. School Board Chair Dave Walden said trustees felt it was important to provide certainty and not let a final decision drag on into the summer months.
Extra police presence and pre-May long weekend planning in 2009 helped reduce the amount of mayhem that normally occurs in Whistler Village during that particular weekend, officials said. Police foot patrols began at noon and lasted until the wee hours, and police took an active role at bar closings, urging groups of people who gathered outside to move on. The result? RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair described the Village vibe as "somewhat subdued compared to last year," and Councillor Ralph Forsyth said many locals felt reassured that there was a plan in place going into the weekend.
The sight of a hunter shooting at a bear while standing just off Highway 99 north of Whistler on May 20 shocked Pemberton resident Lana Beattie enough that she reported the incident to authorities. She was shocked even more when she learned that an investigation found he had done nothing wrong, prompting her and Sylvia Dolson of the Get Bear Smart Society to call for tougher rules about hunting near a roadway. The Wildlife Act allows hunters to shoot at wildlife if they're at least 15 metres from the road's centerline, it's hunting season and they do not shoot across the road. Dolson said she thinks the Highway 99 no-shooting area between West Vancouver and Squamish -which prohibits hunting within 400 metres west of the road and one kilometre east of it - should be extended northward to the area between Squamish and Pemberton.
VANOC officials announced on May 25 that they had met their contractual obligation to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to secure 3,000 beds in the Sea to Sky corridor for the Olympic "family" - IOC officials, sponsors and media. The providers included 19 hotels in Whistler, four in Squamish and 15 property management companies. However, Games organizers were still working to secure housing for the approximately 8,000 volunteers who will be needed in the corridor for the Games. Officials expected that some of those would be filled through a homestay program that provided Games tickets to people providing beds, but other options - including temporary housing and even a cruise ship docked in Squamish harbour - had not been ruled out, VANOC's Maureen Douglas said.
Whistler council faced a difficult task of sifting through years of history and noise complaints and mitigation as it weighed whether to approve events that include dancing at Nicklaus North Golf Club. About 60 people, including both residents of the 18 units on the two floors above the clubhouse and golf club members, attended a June 2 public hearing on the issue, prompting Mayor Ken Melamed to say he was "surprised" at the turnout and that "it's obviously an emotional issue for both sides." At issue was an application by the golf club for an amendment to its liquor licence to allow "patron participant entertainment," or dancing, at events such as weddings.
From the fantastic weather to the beautiful natural surroundings to friendly Whistlerites and even great food, Mayor Ken Melamed heard compliments about just about every aspect of Whistler from the hundreds who attended the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) convention June 5 to 8. Federal ministers John Baird and Bev Oda and federal party leaders Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton were among the dignitaries who attended the annual convention of municipal leaders. The conference's success prompted FCM President Jean Perrault to opine that Whistlerites "are indeed ready to welcome the world for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games."
A Petro Canada spokesperson told The Question on June 9 that work to clean up contamination from leaked fuel from the old Petro Can gas station site is complete and that water and soil testing to confirm that were ongoing. The gas station was shut down in 2006. The following week, however, a B.C. Ministry of Environment official said remediation of contamination under Highway 99 will likely continue for the next few years. Mike Macfarlane, manager of land remediation for the ministry, said his understanding is that crews hired by Petro Canada are extracting vapour from both sides of the highway, burning it off and/or sequestering it. The removal is expected to continue for the next few years, he said.
Whistler and Pemberton search and rescue teams were huddling to decide whether to continue to provide service in the face of a legal conundrum that they said may expose all volunteer searchers in B.C. to personal liability arising from their efforts to serve the public. The situation came about as a result of lawsuits brought against Golden Search and Rescue by a Quebec man whose wife died during a nine-day ordeal in February in the backcountry near Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, during which "SOS" signals were tramped into the snow and seen by helicopter pilots, but no immediate search was launched. The problem, said Brad Sills of Whistler Search and Rescue, was that while individual searchers taking part in Provincial Emergency Program (PEP) searches were covered under liability insurance held by the Province in the event of a court finding of liability against them, individual societies -and especially their directors - might not be. Both societies voted to continue taking part in searches, and the Province later stepped in to close the liability loophole.
While it was still early in the 2009 bear season, people working to reduce human-bear conflict by preventing bears from accessing garbage in Whistler said they were "encourage" by a dramatic reduction in the number of calls of bear sightings so far this year. Conservation Officer Drew Milne on June 23 said call volume was down almost 50 per cent compared to the first part of the 2008 season. One-hundred fourteen calls had been received from April 14 to June 23, compared to 209 for the same period last year, and as yet, no bears had been destroyed by conservation officers in '09.
Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob on June 23 said it was now "questionable" whether a gas station would be built at a Function Junction site owned by the Squamish and Lil'wat nations would be built in time for the 2010 Olympics, as had been the plan. While he said "one or two" major fuel suppliers had expressed interest in such a station, but that it would most likely be built after the Games and would likely not be operated by the nations.
Councillor Grant Lamont on June 30 said he planned to raise a notice of motion at the next council meeting to "revisit" the decision two months earlier to implement pay parking at the Whistler Conference Centre underground. The move came after some 1,700 people signed online petitions opposing the new fees at the centre and seeking the return of free parking.
Whistler Council on July 7 voted - in spite of budgetary pressures - to go ahead with a $910,000 retrofit of Meadow Park Sports Centre that is expected to cut the building's greenhouse gas emissions in half and save about $130,000 in energy costs each year. The budget for the project included $660,000 for a ground-source heat pump and $250,000 for a system using solar panels on the roof.
Canada's biathlon and cross-country ski coaches raised issues with the way Vancouver 2010 Olympic organizers (VANOC) were dealing with access to facilities at Whistler Olympic Park (WOP), with Biathlon Canada Coach Geret Coyne charging that organizers were being too "squeaky fair" in their practices leading up to the Games. Early in the process, Coyne said, Biathlon Canada was looking to locate its ski waxing and testing facility during the Games at the nearby Callaghan Country base, but was told to back off because VANOC wanted to use it. They then learned that the Italian team had struck a deal with Callaghan Country and weren't told that the rules had changed. A few weeks after The Question's article appeared, though, Callaghan Country's Brad Sills said the company had reached an agreement allowing Biathlon Canada to set up its waxing and testing facility there.
Two transportation experts said Whistler council's decision in April to expand pay parking in Whistler - most notably at the Conference Centre underground -was sound, but said the public consultation and implementation strategy attached to the earlier move were lacking. Stuart Donovan, a New Zealand-based transportation engineer, said public education often gets short shrift in municipal governments' decisions to expand pay parking. Said Todd Litman, a Victoria-based transportation consultant, "It is important to introduce parking pricing in a gradual and positive way, with careful attention to educating stakeholders and the general public about the benefits of pricing before it is introduced. It will be difficult now."
The first three families to call the Rainbow neighbourbood home were forced to leave their new houses in early July after they were given the go-ahead to move in - despite the fact that occupancy permits had not been issued for the homes. Bob MacPherson, municipal general manager of community life, said the main issue was that the homes had not yet been hooked up to the sewer system. Fire Chief Rob Whitton said the roads in the neighbourhood weren't yet completed to a degree that would allow emergency-vehicle access. Rainbow partner Rod Nadeau said the families, all with children, were relocated to rental homes provided by the Rainbow team.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon on July 10 dealt a setback to a group of 15 female ski jumpers seeking to force Vancouer 2010 Olympic organizers to stage women's ski jumping this February. While Fenlon ruled that the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision to bar them based on what the IOC termed "technical merits" of their sport is discriminatory, she also said only the IOC, not VANOC, has the authority to decide on the Olympic sporting program. The women later appealed the decision.
About 300 people turned out to celebrate the opening of the outdoor exhibits at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre on July 10. The new exhibits include the Forest Walk, featuring plants traditionally used by the Squamish and Lil'wat peoples, and the traditional Lil'wat istken (pithouse). SLCC's leadership was among a host of local groups and businesses signing as new partners in the Whistler 2020 sustainability initiative.
Faced with widespread public opposition to pay parking at the Conference Centre underground, Whistler council on July 21 voted to return immediately to free, three-hour parking there, but asked municipal staff to draw up a comprehensive review of all municipally run parking in the resort that would likely include the return of pay parking at the Conference Centre. About 100 people turned out for what turned out to be a two-hour discussion that included impassioned pleas from citizens to reverse the earlier decision.
Burning and construction restrictions resulting from the extreme fire hazard kicked in on July 20, prompting Whistler Fire Chief Rob Whitton to warn that backcountry restrictions - similar to what occurred six years earlier - may be ordered by provincial officials.
Affordability continued to be a significant challenge in Whistler, with the community monitoring report showing that the cost of living was rising along with the ability of residents to cover basic costs. Fifteen per cent more seasonal residents and four per cent more permanent residents reported incomes below the basic cost of living in 2008, compared to 2007. The total number of seasonal residents with incomes falling below costs was a startling 85 per cent. Sixteen per cent of permanent residents and 43 per cent of seasonal ones spent more than 40 per cent of their incomes on housing.
Though the B.C. Chamber of Commerce applauded the Province's announcement that it intends to join federal and provincial sales taxes into one, 12 per cent Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in mid-2010, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce took immediate no position. One sector in which the reaction was less ambivalent was the food and beverage sector, where restaurateur and municipal councillor Chris Quinlan voiced concern over the HST's potential to drive away customers and cut into already-thin profit margins.
As two major fires burned in the forest above the Pemberton Meadows (Pemberton Year Ender story), lighting ignited tinder-dry forest on Blackcomb Mountain on July 30 and Aug. 3. B.C. Ministry of Forest crews, working with staff from Whistler Blackcomb and the Whistler Fire Rescue Service, sprung into action both on the ground and in the air to contain the Crystal Ridge and Ruby Bowl fires. As local watched from various locations around the community, air tankers and helicopters dumped water on the Crystal Ridge blaze, which eventually blackened some 50 hectares of forest along the northern ski area boundary. The Ruby Bowl blaze, meanwhile, presented less of a threat of spreading because of the surrounding steep, rocky terrain.
VANOC officials on July 29 told attendees at an open house in Whistler that permits would be required for vehicles to reach Whistler from Vancouver along Highway 99 during the 2010 Olympics. That was just one of the details to emerge during Phase 2 of the transportation plan rollout at the Westin Resort and Spa.
Those who run and use area libraries expressed concern about the potential for B.C. government cuts to library grants to adversely affect library hours and programs. While Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said an "unprecedented economic climate" made the cuts necessary, the directors of public libraries in Whistler and Pemberton said they were anxiously awaiting their grant letters before gauging the impacts on programs and services.
The "end-of-trip" shower and change-room facilities built as part of the $11 million Whistler Public Library were sitting idle eight months after the library's opening because no operator had been found to oversee and maintain the facility. No occupancy permit had yet been issued for that part of the building. As well, the lack of an operational model for such a facility and lack of funding for its operation were also a concern, said Martin Pardoe, the municipal employee who managed the library's design and consrtruction. While the cost of the library is a sore point for some, Pardoe said the cost of the shower and change room were not broken out at the time of construction.
Crazy Canuck Steve Podborski and ski cross star Julia Murray cut the ribbon on the long-awaited Rainbow neighbourood on Aug. 9. The celebration, which coincided with the first families moving into their homes, included bouncy castles, games and more.
Those who run the Whistler Museum and Archives were among those who expressed concern over the potential for cuts to the B.C. government's gaming grants to affect programs and services. John Hetherington, president of the Museum and Archives Society board, said that just two weeks before the society normally starts spending that money, he didn't know whether the society would receive all, part or none of its usual $40,000 grant. In July, the Ministry of Housing and Social Development announced a "freeze" and review of the program that provides gaming grants to arts and culture groups.
Provincial government funding and taxation policy was also a concern to local government and business groups locally. While municipal officials said they had been assured that money from the B.C. hotel taxation program would continue to flow with the planned implementation of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in mid-2010, Tourism Whistler and Whistler Chamber of Commerce officials said they were working through their provincial associations in their efforts to minimize any impacts on their members.
Two Whistler summer music festivals - the Deraylor Music Festival and the Mountain West Music Festival - both drew praise for great music and good times, but only the Deraylor "exceeded expectations" of the organizer. As for Mountain West, Sue Eckersley of Watermark Communications said attendance at the outdoor festival most likely wouldn't justify bringing the festival back in 2010.
The B.C. government's move to cover the cost of B.C. search and rescue societies' liability (see June), announced on Aug. 24, raised as many questions as it answered. Public Safety Minister Kash Heed said the Province would add $180,000 from Gaming Commission money to cover to volunteer societies in the event of a court filing against them. Brad Sills of Whistler Search and Rescue welcomed the move to cover societies' liability, but raised questions about the source. Core funding for search and rescue societies in B.C. also comes from gaming grants, and at the time the Province had frozen that grant program. As well, he said, the Province also took away responsibility for overseeing societies' compliance with Occupational Health and Safety Standards from the Provincial Emergency Program and placed it in the laps of SAR societies in an instance of what he called "downloading."
Officials with Whistler Air and other companies with operations in the Sea to Sky corridor were unhappy with flying restrictions put in place for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Whistler Air's Mike Quinn, who in 2007 invested $1.3 million in a nine-passenger Cessna Caravan aircraft in anticipation of Games-time traffic, said his Plan B would include flying passengers to Squamish and transporting them by bussing them to Whistler. He had hoped to fly them to Pemberton for a trip that would include a Whistler Village flyover -meant to build anticipation of arriving in the 2010 Games Host Mountain Resort - but that fell by the wayside when 2010 security officials imposed a ban on flying within 30 kilometres of a venue during the Games.
The news for which arts and culture groups had been waiting anxiously for weeks arrived in late August. The Whistler Arts Council and Whistler Museum and Archives Society were shut out of B.C. gaming grant money in 2009, causing officials to huddle to figure out what programs to cut back on. Those included the likelihood of a scaled-back Children's Art Festival in 2010. Library directors, meanwhile, breathed a sigh of relief: While gaming grant money was cut by 22 per cent province-wide, the decline wasn't as extreme as had been feared.
Murray Dee, a long-time Whistler resident and ski instructor, was killed in a collision between a flat-deck transport truck and the bicycle he was riding on Mons Road on Sept. 8. He was 49. A part of Whistler Blackcomb's Ski School for 25 years, Dee was honoured as one of the "Pros of the Year" earlier in 2009.
Daniel Veniez, who had a falling out with the federal Conservatives when he was fired earlier in the year as head of a federal shipping terminal in Prince Rupert, on Sept. 13 was acclaimed as candidate in the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding for the Liberal Party in the next federal election. Talk of an election heated up in the fall, but died down shortly thereafter.
Tips that include dressing appropriately for the weather, staying hydrated and making "some noise" if Canadian athletes are being awarded a medal were just some of the information included in a 2010 Olympic employee handbook given to all municipal employees this year. Municipal officials defended the $13,480 cost of the booklet as a necessary way "to inform them, to engage them and to motivate." The Question obtained an electronic version of the book. Municipal representatives said it was an internal document and refused to provide a hard copy.
The Whistler Mountain Ski Club on Sept. 12 became the latest group to be hurt by cuts to government gaming grants, announcing that their application for a grant had been approved - but at an amount 82 per cent less than officials had sought. In a statement, WMSC Executive Director Nigel Loring said, "It is difficult to understand that our club, whose alumni include many of this winter's Olympic medal contenders should be slashed on the eve of the greatest sporting event ever to come to B.C."
Tourism Whistler officials on Sept. 14 forecast an increase of three per cent in overnight stays in the resort for the winter of 2009-'10, mostly because the resort is expected to be at or near capacity during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Single-digit declines in room nights were forecast for November, December and January, while the Paralympics were expected to contribute to an increase for the month of March, officials said.
Despite budgetary concerns, Whistler council on Sept. 15 voted to spend $50,000 per year for the next two years to purchase carbon offsets, making the RMOW the first B.C. municipality to become carbon neutral two years ahead of the requirement in the B.C. Climate Action Charter. Ted Milner was one of two lawmakers to vote against, saying he would prefer to spent the money on initiatives to reduce carbon emissions locally.
The "comprehensive" parking strategy adopted by Whistler council on Sept. 15 looked an awful lot like the ad hoc approach that council backed away from in July - and that 1,700 people opposed in online petitions back then, one of the leaders of that petition drive said on Sept. 18. "It's not what I was looking for," local resident Nathan McLeod said. "People signed the petition asking for free parking and this is pay parking." Municipal officials said that while they supported the direction the plan was going, they acknowledged that some details would likely need to be tweaked in the future.
The B.C.-based online news site The Tyee in September characterized the RMOW as being "at the forefront" of a trend toward hiring paid lobbyists to do its bidding with government officials in Victoria. In 2007 and 2008, for example, the RMOW spent $68,000 for a lobbyist to curry favour with government officials for new B.C. Transit buses to replace much of Whistler's aging transit fleet. Mayor Ken Melamed didn't dispute any of the information but did take issue with the way it was characterized, pointing out that the other four people whose names appeared on the list of registered lobbyists who worked on the RMOW's behalf were lawyers negotiating for the municipality on such issues as finance, the 2010 athletes' village and the Fitzsimmons Creek debris barrier.
Less than five month before the start of the 2010 Olympic Games, it appeared Russian officials and members of the Sochi 2014 Olympic organizing committee would not have a country house or other hosting facility in Whistler. While Science World had been booked as Russia House in Vancouver, Sharon Fugman of the Whistler 2010 Games office said plans for national groups had "shrunken considerably" because of the poor economy.
A family from the United Kingdom and a friend who were with them when the Excalibur Gondola Tower 4 collapsed on Dec. 16, 2008, became the first victims of the incident to file a lawsuit seeking damages for the injuries and mental anguish they suffered. Four members of the Hargrave family and friend Daryl Diggons were among 12 people who were injured among the 53 who were rescued from gondola cars left suspended by the tower collapse. The suit named Whistler Blackcomb, Intrawest and lift manufacturer Dopplemayr as defendants.
Intrawest announced on Oct. 1 that it as stepping up its efforts to increase helmet use among guests at its resorts, including Whistler Blackcomb. The new measures, which took effect this winter, require all youth (age 13 to 17) participants in ski and snowboard schools to wear helmets, and recommend them for all mountain users. The measures stopped short of a requirement adopted by Vail Resort Ltd. in April, requiring all ski resort employees to wear helmets when out on the mountains.
RCMP officials on Oct. 6 voiced opposition to a proposal to extend bar hours during the 2010 Winter Olympics by one hour across the board, allowing restaurants to close at 1 a.m., bars at 2 a.m. and nightclubs at 3 a.m. While several councillors, the Liquor Licence Advisory Committee and much of Whistler's food and beverage sector favoured the blanket extension, police said their Games-time planning was based on the assumption that liquor hours would remain unchanged. In a subsequent closed-door meeting, RCMP officials revealed to lawmakers that the extra policing costs would be significant. Eventually, staff came back to council with a revised proposal that will see liquor hours extended by a half hour each for bars and nightclubs. Police said the extra policing costs for that would be negligible. The measure was adopted.
Also on Oct. 6, Whistler's elected leaders got their first tour of the controversial new B.C. Transit bus storage and maintenance facility - controversial because it was built on a sensitive wetland. Mayor Ken Melamed called the facility "mind blowing," while Councillor Eckhard Zeidler voiced concern about the cost, saying he didn't think Whistler could afford such as "showcase" facility. Neither municipal nor B.C. Transit officials, however, would reveal the final price tag.
VANOC on Oct. 13 introduced Phase II of the Games-time transportation plan, revealing that those wishing to reach Whistler in vehicles from Vancouver and Squamish would require a permit in February 2010. Officials said their goal was a 30 per cent reduction in the number of vehicles on the road in Whistler and key parts of Vancouver, clearing space on the road for buses carrying athletes, officials, spectators and others to get around, particularly at peak periods.
Also on Oct. 13, VANOC announced a special sale of 20,000 Games tickets exclusively to corridor residents on Oct. 24 and 25.
Council on Oct. 20 voted to approve an application for a temporary camp in the Rainbow subdivision to house 1,600 private security workers during the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. The decision upset officials in Pemberton, who had put a lot of planning and site-preparation work for such a camp in the Pemberton industrial park after being approached by the proponent several months earlier. A couple of Whistler councillors expressed concerns about the move, most notably Councillor Eckhard Zeidler, who wondered aloud, "When are we in this town going to stop being such megalomaniacs? It's all about us when are we going to stop?"
Ex-Whistlerite Ross Rebagliati, best known as the world's first Olympic snowboarding gold medalist, on Oct. 26 was named the Liberal Party candidate in the B.C. riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla in the next federal election, pitting him against Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day. For Rebagliati, 38, it is his first foray into the political arena.
Ted Nebbeling, who served as Whistler's mayor from 1990 to 1996 and as the area's Member of Legislative Assembly from '96 to 2005, died after a long battle with colon cancer on Oct. 28. He was 65. Nebbeling was remembered for his energy and enthusiasm and for his many contributions to the resort, including his steadfast support for bringing the 2010 Winter Olympics to Whistler. Longtime friend Peter Alder said Nebbeling was "full of energy and ideas. Sometimes he would shoot from the hip quite a bit, but he had a good heart and was a very good person."
Anxiety over the H1N1 flu was in full flourish as November began. Local doctors and medical clinic staff reported that phones were ringing steadily with people calling about when and where they could receive their H1N1 flu vaccine shots. While those in the Lower Mainland received their shots of vaccine beginning Oct. 26, the first such public clinic for eligible residents didn't take place until Nov. 1.
After a steady dump of early November snow, Whistler Blackcomb officials on Nov. 9 announced that Whistler Mountain would open for skiing and snowboarding on Saturday, Nov. 14 - 12 days ahead of schedule. The news buoyed locals' hopes for a good season recreationally and financially despite the economic downturn and something called "Olympic aversion."
A 20-year-old Whistler man died Nov. 12 after ingesting the drug known as Ecstasy, prompting police to issue a stern warning to anyone thinking of taking that or other illicit drugs. A second male was hospitalized, also after taking Ecstasy. "These drugs are made by criminals using methamphetimine and toxic chemicals. Anytime you're taking these drugs, you're taking your life in your hands," RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair said.
Some Whistler residents who purchased homes in the new Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood said they were unsure whether they wanted to call the place home because of the proximity of an operating asphalt plant. About 100 people attended the Nov. 17 council meeting, with many peppering lawmakers with questions about the possibility of refunds, the health risks associated with plant emissions and the like. After a lengthy question period, council opted to seek legal advice on options for moving the plant. At an emergency meeting the following week, the voted to seek the plant's removal by June 1, 2010. However, Mayor Ken Melamed voted against the measure, saying that because of commitments made to the plant's operators, he wasn't sure if lawmakers could deliver on that promise.
Whistler Film Festival Society officials revealed that they were launching a feasibility study into the possibility of renovating the Rainbow Theatre, Whistler's first movie house, which was built in 1985. An initial estimate put the cost of the project at $1.5 million, with the society planning to seek a $750,000 grant from Canadian Heritage.
After two years of significant growth in attendance and a concerted effort to draw people in from outside the Sea to Sky corridor, organizers of the Whistler Writers Festival announced that they had cancelled the 2010 festival and were unsure whether the event would come back in 2011.
The 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games are expected to cost the Resort Municipality of Whistler $7.4 million in 2010, according to the municipal budget presented to council on Dec. 1. All of that money was expected to come from resort transfer taxes. Lisa Landry, the municipality's general manager of economic viability, said less than $138,000 from the hotel tax reserve is expected to remain in the bank by the end of the year, but that the plan is to replenish the fund beginning in 2011.
Vancouver Coastal Health officials on Dec. 8 responded to complaints from a local doctor about a recent "exorbitant" hike in fees for X-rays and CT scans at the Whistler Health Care Centre by offering partial refunds to those who can demonstrate that they legally reside in B.C. However, that didn't completely allay the concerns of Dr. Cathryn Zeglinski, who said the fee hikes - from $68.10 to $318.80 for a shoulder X-ray, for example - would likely add insult to injury for out-of-country visitors to Whistler and might cause some to avoid getting medically necessary diagnostic tests. VCH officials said the fees are merely meant as cost recovery and said they were based on what it would cost for similar services in the United States.
The Whistler Museum and Archives reopened to the public after an 18-month hiatus to absorb new space into the facility and prepare for an all-new exhibit called "Whistler's Olympic Journey," to be on display during the 2010 Games.
In a bid to find housing for some 700 Olympic Games volunteers in the Whistler area, VANOC officials resurrected their homestay offer of Games tickets in exchange for beds to accommodate the volunteers.
Meanwhile, VANOC officials continued to release details and answer questions about Games-time transportation during a Dec. 9 open house. They said those who still had questions afterward should visit www.travelsmart2010.com or two other sites that have up-to-date information.
B.C. Transit officials on Dec. 15 ended about a year of questions and calls for "transparency" from the community when they revealed the final cost of the new Whistler transit hub near Nesters: $23.2 million. Called the "garage mahal" by Councillor Eckhard Zeidler, the facility nonetheless came in some $2 million under budget. Whistler taxpayers are responsible for 53 per cent of the cost - or $850,000 annual lease payments for 30 years until it's paid off.
The Whistler Housing Authority's purchase waitlist still included approximately 500 names despite three major developments - Rainbow, Cheakamus Crossing and Fitzsimmons Walk - having come on stream in 2009, officials said on Dec. 14. The list included 272 families who already occupied WHA housing but were seeking larger or smaller units.