On anniversary of 2010 Winter Olympics, mixed feelings in Whistler

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Ruddy says the frogs are an endangered species, and that $600-million Sea-to-Sky highway has been a blow to their population. “In 2009, 207 red-legged frogs were killed crossing the highway,” Ruddy says, with audible concern. Ruddy notes that a “huge number” of these end up as roadkill every time they migrate.

Environmental activist John Buchanan, who has long studied the impact of Olympics construction on animals, says the highway has had a “devastating” effect on local wildlife. “They did a double whammy by putting a center barrier in the middle of the highway,” he said. “Animals can't get past it, and they get hit.”

Buchanan says that the Olympics were a “missed opportunity” for light rail transit between Whistler and surrounding areas, and that efforts to bring eco-friendly technology to the area were mostly ill-advised.

“You can only laugh at the Whistler hydrogen bus,” he says. “All the expense that went into that thing (the buses cost around $500,000 each), and they’re still trucking hydrogen from back east with diesel trucks.”

UNITY AND INFRASTRUCTURE

Despite all the criticism, however, there seems to be no denying that the 2010 Olympics imbued a sense of pride among the locals.

Drew Meredith, a realtor and former mayor of Whistler, remembers the 2010 Olympics as a unifying force for the community. “It was almost like a religious experience,” he says. “The day the torch parade started, all the negativity stopped.”

His thoughts are echoed by many residents as they recall the Games: words like “unity” and “togetherness” are repeated by people who took part. Even critics who grumbled about the anniversary party lit up with a smile when recalling the joyous mood during the event.

Meredith says the Games were a catalyst to make some much-needed improvements to infrastructure.

“The house got cleaned,” he says. “The highway got paved, there were lots of private sector upgrades done in hotels and restaurants...we’ve had a chronic housing problem in Whistler since I arrived in 1971, and we don’t have that problem now. The Olympics fixed this.”

Although many residents are unhappy now about the sharp decline of business and real estate prices after the Games, Meredith points out that this is mainly a consequence of the economic downtown in the US, and not tied to the Games.

Meredith says that on the upside of the real estate slump, Whistler’s notoriously expensive housing has become much more affordable for residents. “You can get a nice, comfortable condo for 250,000 now,” he says. “We have to make a concerted effort to tell the world that we've got good housing for you, so come settle down with your family.”

MIXED FEELINGS

 “Our personal experience of the Games was that it was very positive and created memories for a lifetime,” agrees Tim Koshul, a local resident. “But now, the party’s over, and there are some floaties in the punch bowl that we have to remove.”

Koshul was among many Whistler employees who bought affordable employee housing at Cheakamus Crossing, a brand-new neighbourhood which served as the Athletes’ Village during the Olympics. While most people were thrilled about their affordable homes, they’ve expressed outrage over an active asphalt plant just outside their future residence. So far, the Municipality has rejected calls to have it moved.

“It’s absolutely disgusting,” says Koshul, who is currently leading the No Aspahlt Plant (NAP) group of residents to call for the plant’s removal. “I moved out to Whistler from Europe five years ago because of the pristine nature and healthy environment … I couldn’t imagine moving to an area where there’s heavy industry just 300 metres from your home.”

Koshul says that many people were looking through “rose-coloured glasses” and became too swept up in the jubilant mood of the Games to notice the fine print about the plant, until it was too late. He indicates that the current arguments over the housing units are reflective of the mixed legacy of the Olympics.

“There were a lot of positives from the Games, but also a lot of negatives that no one ever conceived at the time,” he says. “People hired extra staff for the Olympics, and had to lay them off later.  There’s an improved highway, but there’s been an economic downturn because of it, since people now just come and they leave – they used to stay a night because the drive was too long.”

Koshul, who recently participated in the dog walk for change, hopes that the Olympics anniversary can motivate people to tackle the issues that have come about as a result of last year’s celebrations.

“The Games were all about change, and I say, let’s turn some of that compassion (for the sleddogs) into action,” he says. “The reality is that when celebrations end on the 14th, there’s some work to be done.” 

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