The ongoing battle between Ledcor Power and opponents of the company's plans for a power project on the Ashlu River has taken more twists and turns than the river itself - and it's only getting more heated.
Tensions between the company and local residents and kayakers was apparent at a festival organized by kayakers this past weekend to create awareness of kayakers' concerns.
The Ashlu Whitewater Festival drew more than 200 paddlers from across North America, according to Stuart Smith, festival organizer and River Projects Coordinator for the Whitewater Kayaking Association of B.C. (WKABC).
Hiking trips, freestyle kayaking clinics, advanced paddling clinics, learn-to-kayak lessons and guided trips were filled to capacity throughout the weekend, despite the rainy weather.
But Smith said he was "disgusted"by public relations tactics by Ledcor during the event. Smith noted that someone from Ledcor had dropped a stack of "power plant propaganda" on the registration table when nobody was present.
Event sponsors also complained to organizers that Ledcor had made several phone calls to their offices, stating their concern that they were supporting the festival.
"We were all pretty disgusted that Ledcor called up some of our sponsors in regards to our festival," Smith said. "It's really disappointing behavior for a company that claims to be respectful of the community needs.
"It doesn't seem like they play by the same set of morals and values that everybody else does. It seems like they go through any means necessary to push the project through."
Even before the festival, tensions between the company and residents have been apparent.
Upper Squamish Valley residents and paddlers walked out during a recent meeting with power project proponent Ledcor.
Ledcor, who held the meeting at the request of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD), came to the meeting armed with a list of amenities that they would provide the community to mitigate construction disturbances while the power project was being built. Several residents, however, were not interested in any amenities because they do not want the project in their valley - period.
"We're not bargaining on the Ashlu," said Tom Rankin, an Upper Squamish Valley resident who has been opposed to the project from the beginning.
More than 80 per cent of the residents who showed up simply walked out of the meeting after a short time, which caused concern for Kelly Boychuk, the power project manager from Ledcor who showed up to talk about the benefits of the project, and the amenities the company was willing to provide to the residents.
"The ones who showed up were upset," said Boychuk. "They came to the meeting but left after they said they didn't want to hear any more."
Representatives of the WKABC have said they are not entirely against IPPs, they just don't want to see one on the Ashlu.
If the project gets the green light by way of re-zoning approval through the SLRD , construction will begin as early as December 2004. The creation of the tunnel alone will take one full year of 24-hour-a-day tunneling and rock hauling from the Ashlu River, through the Upper Squamish Valley road to a selected location.
"There is an inconvenience factor during the construction of the project due to the increased construction traffic and rock hauling for two years,' said Brad Mytko, project manager of Peter Kiewit Sons Co. Ltd., the company who will be engineering, procuring materials for, and constructing the project. "Ledcor has proposed community benefits for that inconvenience, and will set up a committee to take proposals and pick projects that the community wants."
Ledcor has also begun lobbying Squamish residents with a public relations campaign aimed at informing the public about the locations and plans for the project. They have set up an information office at Squamish Station Mall manned six days a week and are offering tours of the area to interested parties.
"Now that the project is becoming closer and closer to actually becoming a project, we're at the point where we are able to provide more detailed information to the public,' said Boychuk.
The company has also placed a two-page ad in today's Chief.