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Wal-Mart land clearing proves controversial

The clearing of the land where Wal-Mart plans to set up shop in the Squamish Business Park has some residents asking questions.

The clearing of the land where Wal-Mart plans to set up shop in the Squamish Business Park has some residents asking questions.

Local conservationist Edith Tobe is one of the residents with concerns and she wrote council recently to express her concerns for the way the land clearing was handled.

The District of Squamish hired L&A Equipment to clear the site last month. The contracting company cleared the sight, separated the potentially valuable timber and piled the rest of the debris on the site.

The district advertised in the April 9 edition of The Chief that the district was looking for tenders from companies able to take away the piles created by L&A Equipment. The ad notes that the debris has to be disposed off-site and cannot be burned on-site. The tender documents had to be submitted to the district by 10 a.m. today (April 16).

Mayor Ian Sutherland noted on Thursday (April 15) that the land faced tight timelines because provincial regulations only allow significant land clearing to take place at certain times. If the work wasn't done right away it would have been delayed through the summer so as not to disrupt bird-nesting activities.

According to Sutherland, the cost of the clearing is being shared equally three ways by the District of Squamish, First Pro (a consultant working with Wal-Mart) and Parallax Investment Corp. (the backers of the proposed factory outlet mall).

Wal-Mart and Parallax don't actually own the lands they plan to put their buildings on. They both have offers to buy pieces of district-owned land fronting Hwy. 99. The most important condition attached to the sales is rezoning. If the land is rezoned to allow the uses desired by the retailers then the sale agreements will be completed.

"If the zoning doesn't go through, they've just given Squamish some money," Sutherland said. "The part that we pay will eventually be recovered through development charges."

On top of eventually recovering the district's contribution to the clearing costs, Sutherland said timber of any value was set aside and sold with profits going to the district. Sutherland said some of the value of the trees may have been lost through the method used to clear the area; however, he said it is likely much less than some people believe.

The bid from L&A Equipment for the original clearing was much less than some of the other bidders. The other bidders planned to use clearing techniques more consistent with logging practices.

Sutherland noted that if the district went with a bid that was $40,000 dollars higher than the lowest bid then critics would ask why high bids were taken over far less expensive options.

"Most taxpayers would be appalled if we made a habit of ignoring the lowest bidder," Sutherland said.

"A lot of the challenge in this was that we were up against a very tight deadline," the mayor said. "All the decisions were made in the best faith and were thought to be the best decisions at the time."

Despite the fact in the long run the clearing won't cost the district a large sum of money Sutherland said other methods could have been used to clear the land.

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