Questions remain over controversial Prince George bus plan

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Questions remain over controversial Prince George bus plan

Opponents of a proposed bus maintenance facility near a popular walking trail in Prince George say they still have questions after city council voted to take another step toward approving the project.

"They haven't disclosed the specific details of the facility," said Susanne Williamson, who attended council to demonstrate her opposition. 

"[It's] really not open or transparent and rather disappointing."

B.C. Transit wants to build a $23 million operations and maintenance facility in an area of town currently zoned for greenbelt, parks and open space.

The land would have to be rezoned to allow for heavy vehicle repair, cleaning, storage and office space.

Hundreds of people have voiced their opposition through social media, letters to city hall and an online petition set up by Williamson. 

Key concerns are noise, air quality and the loss of green space.

"They are talking about turning what is already a piece of land that is providing wildlife habitat, is providing recreational use, into something that is industrial," Williamson said. 

"I couldn't believe it."

Funding deadline looms

Several councillors said they'd like to see more details, but supported moving forward to a public hearing before a final decision is made.

Jillian Merrick was the only councillor to vote against the motion.

"I'm feeling like we're just moving ahead with this project because the federal government and provincial government have put a lot of money in and we're not questioning whether that investment is merited or not," she said.

The federal government has chipped in $9.5 million to support the $23 million project, but it must be spent by 2019.

Merrick fears the city is rushing in order to meet the deadline.

She pointed out the plan will still cost the city over $3 million, and contrasted it with other, less expensive projects that took years to approve, such as building a new library entrance.

She also said she hasn't seen any mockups of the facility or hard numbers pointing to its need.

"We've just been given high-level statements and while they may be true, you can't expect me to make a decision on a $30 million building on 'just trust us because we say so,'" she said.

"It's not that anybody's trying to hide something, I think it's just being rushed."

'Only viable location': B.C. Transit

B.C. Transit says the need for a new facility is based on the city's official community plan, which projects the population growing to 93,000 people by 2038.

Combined with expanded runs on Sunday and holidays, this would mean more than doubling the current fleet of buses and exceeding the capacity of the current maintenance site.

B.C. Transit spokesperson Jonathan Dyck said several locations were examined, and the corner of 18th Avenue and Foothills Boulevard was the only one that met their needs.

"The valuation identified this as the only viable location," he said, adding that key factors were the size and cost of the site and its central location, so drivers don't have to drop buses off somewhere not connected to their routes, as is currently done.

"We'll be able to invest that [the savings] back into the service," he said.

Information about which other locations were considered is not publicly available, an omission that bothers Williamson.

"The public absolutely has a right to know," she said.

In preparation for the public hearing, she is working with other opponents to find alternate locations they feel could be used without taking away green space.

"I guess we have to work on what the city isn't," she said.

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