By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: Jan.12, 2012.
Coun. Patricia Heintzman shook her head and plonked her face down on her desk. Then, she looked up and raised her hand to speak.
When she spoke, her calm voice barely concealed her simmering anger. She was clearly not happy at the January 10 regular council meeting on Tuesday.
What distressed her, and Coun. Bryan Raiser and Coun. Susan Chapelle in equal measure, was a staff suggestion to delay, once again, the Valleycliffe Trail upgrades.
The staff argued that upgrades would have to be put on hold because the trail trespasses over private land.
Stop singing that old tune, Heintzman told staff bluntly.
“How many times do we have to say that this is a priority,” she said, her voice sharp and edgy.
In the end, it turned out to be a heated debate over nothing: Engineer Brian Barnett has since acknoweldged that the district had owned the trail all along.
Barnett didn’t return calls by press time. It’s still unclear what took the district so long to discover the error.
The residents of Valleycliffe and Hospital Hill have been pressing the council to upgrade the trail for years. But everytime they went to the council, they were told nothing could be done until the private property issues were resolved.
In fact, Barnett himself ensured the council the district had been talking to the private land owners for a year now.
It’s hard to belive that in all these “discussions” with the private landowners, it never came to light that the district had owned the land all along.
About 20 to 50 per cent of the trail on the west side is on private property, the district had earlier claimed.
Council passed a motion directing staff to start upgrades on the district owned eastern section of the trail, which connects Hospital Hill with Valleycliffe.
Now, Coun. Heintzman said she hopes now that would mean the “entire” not just the eastern section of the trail.
“It appears the only thing is budget. We need to know costs and budget for it and apply for grants,” she said.
“I’m really hopeful the remainder of this entire will be in this year’s budget. There is possible gas tax or other grant funding available too.”
And one would be hard pressed to find a trail in Squamish that is so well used, and by such a cross section of people.
Residents of more than 900 homes use it. High school students use it, young moms use it, seniors use it, and people going to the downtown Sikh temple use it.
And they will keep using it despite its ever worsening situation.
While the west side of the trail is marred with steep slopes, dense vegetation, and stumps in the middle of the trail, the eastern section gets outright dangerous in winter as it freezes.
There was a disconcerting lack of information available to council to discuss, said Eric Andersen, who has championed the cause of the trail for several years.