The public gallery in the Squamish Council Chamber was packed Tuesday (Oct. 5) with people opposed to the proposed run-of-the-river hydroelectric project on Ashlu Creek.
They left cheering with exactly what they wanted.
Squamish council voted 4-3 to oppose the proposed Upper Squamish Valley project, a complete reversal of the stance taken on Sept. 14 in regard to the controversial project.
Coun. Dave Fenn, the lone councillor to vote against the project Sept. 14, was joined by Coun. Ray Peters and Coun. Corinne Lonsdale, who were absent for the first vote, as well as Coun. Jeff Dawson, who had previously voted to support the project.
Fenn asked to have the matter put on the agenda at the council meeting this week. He said he wanted to vote again with a full council in attendance.
At the council meeting, Fenn said the notion of independent power projects was "thrust upon municipalities".
Mayor Ian Sutherland reinforced the fact that the District of Squamish is not the key decision-maker on the Ashlu issue by mentioning that a number of times during the course of the debate. Sutherland unsuccessfully tried to convince council to take no position on the power project.
"I want to send the message to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) that we trust their judgement," said Sutherland.
The project is outside the DOS boundaries so the SLRD is responsible for either rezoning the land or rejecting Ledcor Power's application.
Fenn asked why the SLRD deferred to the DOS. Sutherland said he believes the SLRD board hoped Squamish would oppose the project to give the SLRD stronger reason to reject the Ledcor application.
"I would prefer that we sent a 'no' message as opposed to taking no stance," Lonsdale said.
"Our say is a valuable say and I'd like to exercise that say," said Coun. Jeff Dawson.
Dawson didn't touch on the reasons for reversing his stance but the next day he said he is very comfortable with the vote he cast in opposition to the project.
"The important issue here is that we make the right decision and often times that takes more time than any of us would like," said Dawson. "We have a duty and an obligation to give a damn about our region. We may not have a final say and we may not matter technically but we have a valuable say and an obligation to exercise that say."
Coun. Ray Peters was mainly concerned with the impacts an energy project will have on the Ashlu's recreational values.
"We say we are the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada and we need to back that up," Peters said.
"I'm concerned about us being bill 75'ed on this issue," said Lonsdale in reference to legislation that allows the province to overrule local governments when it is for the greater good of the province.
Lonsdale expressed concern over the mixed local messages on the Ashlu project. She noted that the provincially-initiated Sea to Sky Land Resource Management Plan (LRMP) process concluded this week and that group recommended to the provincial government that four rivers, including the Ashlu, should be protected from any development.
Council's new stance is consistent now with the recommendations from the LRMP suggestion for the future of the Ashlu.
Stuart Smith of the Whitewater Kayaking Association of B.C., a participant in the LRMP, confirmed that the final report proposed protection of the Ashlu.
"The energy guys have refused to participate in this whole planning process, so they basically disagree with everything we [LRMP participants] said," Smith said Wednesday (Oct. 6).
The LRMP process brought together representatives from various sectors to come up with a consensus based document aimed at helping government determine how various sectors will share the land in the region. All the participants were people with connections to the region through business or recreation.
Kahlon predicted that Bill 75 will be used by the province if the project is rejected at the local level.
"If the SLRD says no to the project the provincial government can come in and say that it is bunk and go ahead with it anyway," Smith said of the provincial option to invoke Bill 75.
Smith's kayak organization has recommended Ring Creek and Culliton Creek as streams better suited for power projects.
Along with creating a list of streams kayakers prefer for power project development, Smith said his group created a list of streams that they feel should have what he called defer status and that list includes Monmouth and Shannon Falls.
Smith said that he is pleased Squamish Council decided to revisit the original stance on the Ashlu and he's happy that the stance was reversed.
Kelly Boychuk, Ledcor's project manager, said he was surprised by the change of stance, as he had no idea the issue was going to be discussed at the council meeting.
Boychuk pointed out that his company is still operating a storefront information office that is open Monday through Saturday at Squamish Station Mall. The company has a great deal of information on the project available at that office and online at www.ashlucreek.com.
The opponents of the Ashlu project have their own website at www.ashluriver.ca.