The Bank Robbery
Well, it’s not really a bank robbery. But similarities exist. First, the asset — a mountainside full of trees and a harmonious group of creeks taking the excess rainfall way down to the spawning beds and the beautiful ocean below.
Next the removal. The forest will disappear — with Shakespearean ghostliness. Just like the forest of Birnham Wood (or the golf range/Village at Park Royal… remember that?) Then the proceeds. The asset will be partially compensated for by contribution by the developer (British Pacific Properties or BPP) to a general taxpayers’ piggy bank. This is technically known as a DCC or Development Cost Charges. But the funds in the piggy bank, and more from District funds (to a sum of $6.3 million), will then be used to pay for the “get-away” — a huge pipe to carry all before it — water, grit, residents’ objections… all flushed down to the sea.
Justifying the Need: “Timing” is Everything
Why the need for a huge pipe? Well, if you read the wording of the West Vancouver District (WVD), “…culverts and creek channels do not have the capacity to convey the increasingly significant flows”, you would be forgiven if you assumed that the adequacy (or lack thereof) was judged against present flows.
But nowhere does the document specify that, and what slips under the reader’s eyes is that the inadequacy is brought on by the new construction. Current pipes are indeed adequate for current flows. What is changing is that when the mountainside is covered with concrete, the five creeks — Pipe, Westmount, Cave, Turner and Godman — will receive all the water that is currently soaked up by the forest, and they will overflow. That is why the District and BPP need to build a project to avoid catastrophic flooding of those creeks due to development and have chosen to run the expected excess into that huge pipe (which eventually grows to 10 feet in diameter).
Funding: The WVD Shell-Trick
There is a shell, the DCC or Development Cost Charges. I prefer to call it the Developers’ Penitential Fund. It’s like paying for forgiveness before you actually commit the sin.
So the developer (British Pacific Properties or BPP) agrees to pay $2 million as the DCC. The district then says, “OK. It is our responsibility to rectify the effects of your construction that are visited on areas below the Upper Levels.”
So then WVD takes $4 million from the DCC piggy bank — funds that were as good as taxes collected — plus $2.3 million from utility fees, and pays for the damage caused by the BPP development.
Now that is a superb example of local government’s careful guardianship of taxpayers’ finances.
Concrete Reality: A Cement-covered Mountain
The major environmental consideration is the amount of concrete that will be deposited by BPP in its proposed development. This will cause the vast amounts of rainwater, which is currently soaked up by the forest, to run off the mountainside and potentially cause disastrous flooding in residential areas below the Upper Levels. In addition, a cement carpet is not a welcoming habitat for any of the wildlife currently occupying that area.
Where Are the Environmentalists When You Need Them?
Strangely acquiescent through all this debate about acre upon acre of irreplaceable mountain forest are the environmentalist groups. The usual suspects are nowhere to be heard. One might expect that Streamkeepers would be expected to be opposed to development that caused the potential for disastrous flooding of creeks but in a recent letter they appear to accept that mitigation of the situation is acceptable. The philosophy might be phrased “get along to get along”. During the B-Line debate, we heard from another organisation, Force of Nature, and that was in support of a three-miles-per-gallon diesel bus! Unlikely they would be interested in a mountainside.
Diversions and More Diversions: Residents Told to be Patient
When the mega-pipe comes down the mountain, you’ll need to get out of the way! Water is not the only item being diverted by this project. There will be traffic diversions and “pauses” like residents have never seen before.
First responders, municipal services, Canada Post, couriers, soccer moms, contractors, repair services, delivery services, commuters will all be affected.
Yes, the residents of Altamont and Westmount are being told to hang in there… the regular delays will only be around the 1/2 hour mark (told verbatim to Mr Finnie, a local resident and senior: “You could wait in your driveway for 10 minutes?”)
The main pipe will descend through the 31st St corridor and end up being almost 10 feet in diameter at water’s edge. The water will be flowing so fast at that point it will need baffles within the pipe to slow it to a speed that won’t plough away the foreshore. Presumably this will not happen in total silence, another facet to be enjoyed by any local residents who always wanted to live by a waterfall.
What was the Problem in the First Place?
Ironically, we have WVD Engineer Ray Fung and Planner Jim Bailey, basking in the glory of a 2013 award (award for WVD!) for having a leading-edge policy regarding water management. That policy has as its core the preference for local (as high as possible) retention of excess water and places the “big-pipe solution” in the least-desirable category.
Policy is the easy part; implementation is harder. Hence the lip service paid to the award criteria seems to have been forgotten when push comes to shove in West Van.
For example, the objective of keeping water locally (retention, rainharvesting) seems to have been missed by Planning and Engineering also when you take a look at the cement “Monster on Mathers”. And that is just a tiny model for what is happening above the Upper Levels on mega scale by British Pacific Properties.
Decisions Decisions: How WVD Makes Them So Fast
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect as far as local residents are concerned is the lack of real consultation. As with other projects recently (don’t mention the B-Line) residents have basically been told “big brother (in this case BPP) knows best and so this is coming and there is nothing you can do about it”. Of course, they were given the message in a polite way, but they got the message.
The District is fast acquiring a reputation of an organisation that has hidden plans, drives hidden agendas through managed “consultation” processes and steamrollers its way over objections even from residents who are subject-matter experts (engineers) in their own right.
Not an environment conducive to a healthy democracy.
Neill Caroll is a resident of Ambleside in West Vancouver