The ongoing West Coast Multiplex saga didn’t achieve much clarity last week as Ucluelet’s municipal council voted to support the project as laid out and Tofino’s voted to pull out of the current plan and pursue a new one, prompting Electoral Area C to follow suit.
The proposed project, which outlines an ice rink and swimming pool facility being built near Long Beach Airport in two phases with the ice rink coming first, has brought rigorous debate since the results of a West Coast Multiplex Survey distributed by the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District were released in December. The results showed 51 per cent of the survey’s 1,472 respondents oppose an ice rink facility as the first phase of a multiplex facility. A stark contrast to a 2012 referendum that saw 62 per cent of 1,094 ballots cast support covering a Multiplex facility’s operating costs, up to $450,000 annually, through property taxation.
About 40 per cent of the filled out surveys came from Tofino, which voted 59.8 against pursuing an ice rink.
As reported by the Westerly News, Tofino’s council was unable to agree on a path forward during their Jan. 9 meeting, but they reached a majority consensus at their Jan. 23 regular meeting approving a motion that states: “Tofino council does not wish to move ahead with a stand-alone ice rink, but wishes to engage with the ACRD and neighbouring communities to determine the willingness and feasibility of a combined rink and pool facility or a stand alone pool facility.”
Coun. Greg Blanchette loudly opposed the motion.
“That basically rewinds the clock [five to eight] years, back to where we started when the multiplex took on the design of a combined facility,” he said. “I’m just afraid that if we take it back to the ACRD and do more studies, they’ll be the same studies we’ve done already and they’ll come to the same conclusion we’re at now.”
Mayor Josie Osborne said she “disagreed profoundly,” with Blanchette, but added that Tofino would need to talk to its neighbouring West Coast communities before carving a path forward.
“The key part of a motion like this, to me, is taking it back and advancing the conversation with the other communities,” she said.
Ucluelet handed in the most surveys at 46.9 per cent and the community was relatively split with 45 per cent in favour of pursuing an ice rink and 43.4 per cent opposed.
During their Jan. 23 meeting, Ucluelet’s council unanimously agreed to support the West Coast Multiplex Society’s fundraising efforts along with an ice rink as the first phase.
Coun. Randy Oliwa said he has long been opposed to the project, but recently came around to it.
“In looking at it over the last couple weeks, I’m more in support now than I’ve ever been for the project,” he said.
West Coast Multiplex Society president Samantha Hackett told the Westerly News after the meeting that the society will continue fundraising as planned for the estimated $18 million needed to build the initial ice rink phase of the facility.
“Nothing changes. Even though Tofino has not supported a stand-alone rink, the project is not a stand alone rink. Nor has it ever been. We’ve never called it that,” she said. “We’re not fundraising for a stand-alone rink. Our fundraising plan still stands.”
She said the society feels supported to move ahead by Ucluelet and local First Nations communities, but said she has been frustrated by Tofino’s opposition.
“What’s really frustrating too is just how much weight potentially could be given to Tofino when it is only one community….Whether it’s a rink or a hospital or a high school, to only be making decisions based on one community, I feel, hurts everybody in the process,” she said. “If one community can actually dictate the outcome of this, it just doesn’t sit right.”
The regional district’s West Coast Committee was expected to discuss the project on Feb. 16.
While Tofino and Ucluelet made up a significant majority of the survey’s respondents, 602 and 690 respectively, 88 surveys came from Electoral Area C Director Tony Bennet’s constituents, 57 per cent of whom opposed the ice rink pursuit.
Bennet told the Westerly that Electoral Area C was not keen on the project during 2012’s referendum, so he was not surprised to see the majority oppose the project again through the survey.
“My initial support has always been for the need of communities to come together on a regional project, but that needed the support of the broad base of the communities. If Tofino has made the decision that they are going to pull out, then there’s no place for Area C to be involved either,” he said.
He said the Regional District land near Long Beach Airport should be considered, but Tofino and Ucluelet would have to agree on a gameplan.
“I still believe that there are opportunities at the airport lands for regional and community initiatives in recreation, education and health,” he said. “You need both of the larger communities, meaning Ucluelet and Tofino, that has that tax base. Without either one of them, any project at the airport is not going to succeed.”