Lonsdale, Sutherland spar as council approves deal
Chief Staff Writer
The final signatures went onto the Nexen land transfer agreement this week and that means the only thing that can hold up the deal at this point is the voters of Squamish.
At a special meeting of Squamish Council on Tuesday (May 25) councillors voted to approve nine separate agreements that collectively make up the Nexen land transfer.
For at least four months leading up to the council vote, lawyers and real estate consultants worked with the District of Squamish (DOS), B.C. Rail (BCR) and the provincial government to set the exact wording of the agreements.
Council was originally supposed to vote on the agreements last Tuesday (May 18) but according to DOS administrator Kim Anema, the provincial government needed a few more days to complete some final details.
The deal before council included the transfer of a number of pieces of property to the DOS and the transfer of a pump and treatment equipment that is currently in use at the former chemical plant site.
The total cost to the DOS for the land and equipment is $3.00.
The complicated transfer, which ran several hundred pages in length, caused some confusion for council as it considered the deal and had to be renumbered by staff in the middle of the debate.
Coun. Corinne Lonsdale opened the debate by expressing her concern over legal access to the former chemical plant lands where redevelopment is expected to take place in the years ahead.
Mick Gottardi, the District of Squamish's director of community development, told council that he understood legal access is in place despite the fact that the District does not own Galbraith Road between Vancouver Street and the edge of the former chemical plant lands.
"A road that is maintained by the district is a district road," Gottardi told council.
Lonsdale also wondered how the district will finance infrastructure work on the site of the former chemical plant. Her question was not directly answered.
Before the land transfer becomes a reality, the people of Squamish get their say. A counter-petition was established by council to give residents who oppose the deal an opportunity to register their opposition. The rules set out in the new Community Charter say that council has to offer a counter-petition opportunity because the Nexen deal is for more than five years and the deal brings new liabilities and obligations to the DOS.
If fewer than 924 people sign the counter-petition, then the deal will go ahead and community approval is assumed. If more than 924 people sign the counter-petition then community support is not assumed and a referendum will take place.
Council's launch of the counter petition passed without opposition.
Those who wish to sign the counter petition can do so at Municipal Hall, where all the public documents pertaining to the land deal are available for inspection.
Sutherland said there is a total of 12 boxes full of paperwork that residents can sort through to better understand the land deal. The deadline to register opposition to the land transfer deal is July 6.
Debate on the transfer itself saw Coun. Lonsdale the lone opponent of the deal.
"I will be unable to support the motion primarily due to my concern about the liability of the land," Lonsdale told her fellow lawmakers. "There's far too many unknowns and I am reluctant."
Coun. Raj Kahlon agreed that there are many concerns at the site.
"I will be able to support it," Kahlon said after recognizing the risks involved in the deal.
"This is probably one of the most exciting agreements in Squamish history," Coun. Sonja Lebans said. "I will heartily endorse this."
"The benefits far outweigh the risk," Mayor Sutherland said. "This is a signature property for Squamish. There are some risks involved in the project. I think we are taking a giant stop forward today."
The debate grew heated shortly before the vote.
"I don't believe the District of Squamish needs to own the land to make the waterfront land go forward," said Lonsdale. "I think the province did very well for themselves. They successfully got us on-side with the B.C. Rail sale and unloaded a contaminated piece of property."
"I say we got a coup for the District of Squamish," said Sutherland as he called for the vote.
The land transfer agreement and related deals that make up the Nexen land transfer passed by a vote of five to one. Coun. Ray Peters was not in attendance for the meeting and Lonsdale voted against the deal.
"Coun. Lonsdale is opposed to the waterfront," Sutherland said to end the debate.
Sutherland told The Chief after the meeting that BCR was reluctant to sign the deal. He said the Crown corporation saw it as a gift to Squamish. The mayor claimed that the company didn't believe it was a good business deal for the railroad.
Early in the meeting on Tuesday it was noted that a downtown land swap involving Loggers Lane and the railroad tracks running parallel to Loggers Lane is not part of the agreement before council. That land swap will be dealt with later, according to the mayor.