One of the most controversial issues of 2004 is going to reach its high point on Wednesday (Nov. 17).
For the second time, a public hearing on the proposed rezoning in the Ashlu Creek area will take place at the Sea to Sky Hotel starting at 7 p.m. The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) is considering a rezoning that could lead to the construction of a run-of-the-river power project on the Ashlu. The land is currently zoned resource use and Ledcor Power wants the area rezoned to industrial use.
The first public hearing was held on May 17 and only two people spoke in favour of the project at that time. Xwa-Xwalkn, who is better known as Coun. Dale Harry of the Squamish Nation, spoke in favour along with Kelly Boychuk of Ledcor.
Over the course of the three-hour hearing, speaker after speaker expressed opposition to the rezoning and the power project.
At the end of the meeting, SLRD director John Turner announced that some potentially-affected government agencies had not submitted responses, so a second public hearing was needed.
The SLRD planning staff confirmed this week that the missing information was received and a number of other pieces of information were put before the SLRD directors to help them in their decision-making process.
The new information received since the close of the first public meeting is contained in a binder that is available to the public and will be on hand at the meeting on Wednesday.
SLRD planning consultant Susan Stratis presented a report at an Oct. 28 meeting to the SLRD directors on the proposed 49-megawatt micro-hydro facility.
Stratis said the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Navigable Waters Protection Division of Transport Canada looked at two of the main issues arising from the proposed independent power project (IPP), including grizzly bear habitat and environmental impacts. She said federal officials rated the impacts either low or zero once mitigation is complete.
Navigable Waters recommended weekend releases of water be provided for the kayaking community during certain months if the project goes ahead. And, one proposal calls for kayakers to book their trips through an on-line reservation system.
But Stuart Smith of the Whitewater Kayaking Association of B.C. doesn't believe such a system will work.
"The concept of weekend use doesn't really address our concerns," Smith said. "It is supposed to be a mitigation measure and I suppose it is better than nothing but it doesn't address the whole season that we are going to lose."
Smith, a Squamish resident, sees significant flaws with any booking system. He notes that if no trips are booked there won't be any extra releases.
"If someone travels from Kelowna and sees it is too low, they will leave disappointed not knowing that they had to book ahead," said Smith.
It also doesn't seem like it'll be very easy to implement, Smith said.
Stratis told the SLRD directors that the mandate of Navigable Waters is narrow and Smith says that is a problem.
"The Navigable Waters guys don't address recreation or tourism, it is not in their mandate," Smith said. "This is just physical navigation and doesn't take into account tourism operators."
Stratis has a concern about the bigger picture for the Sea to Sky corridor and the way companies are looking at the regional waterways as energy sources for the future. She told the SLRD directors that the SRLD staff is concerned about the lack of an overall river strategy for IPP developments.
Squamish council recently passed a motion indicating that the community opposes the Ashlu project. In passing the motion, the main concern of the council members was the lack of an overall strategy for IPP development in the Sea to Sky corridor.
The Ashlu project came about after a 2002 call for power by BC Hydro. That call for proposals led to offers of purchase agreements from B.C. Hydro to Ledcor for its Ashlu project and 15 other IPP projects.
All those projects combined are expected to generate up to 1,800 gigawatt-hours of electricity.B.C. Hydro announced on Oct. 28 that a series of open calls to the private sector will be made in the spring of 2005 and fall of 2006 to acquire as much as 2,000 gigawatt hours of new energy.
A wind turbine manufacturing company called Vestas is interested in setting up a manufacturing facility in Squamish was pushing the province to commit to purchasing between 1,000 and 2,000 gigawatt-hours of new energy from the wind industry. With that level of commitment Vestas said it would build a production plant in B.C. to service the Pacific Northwest region.