It would appear that Whitehorse’s proposed eco-village is starting to lose some of its green tint.
Eco-village is perhaps a bit strong of a term for Whistle Bend but this subdivision was meant to be environmentally less harmful than some of the recent sprawling suburbs that have been inflicted upon the greater Whitehorse area in the last few decades.
While there is nothing wrong in rural residential living if only a few families do it, the landscape gets devastated if everyone does it.
It simply is not possible for all those residing around the Yukon Southern Lakes region to have five acres in the country.
There wouldn’t be any public land left for everyone to enjoy, and the habitat fragmentation it would cause would be disastrous for large mammals.
Whistle Bend is meant to be a way to provide housing to over eight thousand people in a small area without contributing towards more rural sprawl.
It is intended to be a mixture of houses, condominiums and apartments.
Businesses and shops will be located within the subdivision to alleviate some of the commuting residents might have to do.
The proposed site is located on the lower bench of Porter Creek in an undeveloped area but close to existing developments.
Roads such as Mountain View Drive and Range Road provide access to downtown and all its services.
Now there is extremely valid concern about a proposed road along McIntyre Creek to intersect the Alaska Highway near the Kopper King.
However, this road is not required for Whistle Bend to exist or to function as intended.
Hopefully the ongoing YESAB review of phases 1 and 2 of this subdivision will note this fact.
Incidentally the deadline for getting comments into YESAB on the first two phases of Whistle Bend is February 1st. That is this coming Monday.
Given the compact nature of Whistle Bend there is even a chance to implement environmentally friendly concepts such as district heating.
This is where a central heating facility pipes heat, usually in the form of a hot liquid, to houses and businesses to use to heat their rooms and offices.
It means pipes have to be laid from the central facility to each user.
The central facility heats the distributed liquid using a variety of sources.
A geothermal heat exchange is the lead environmentally friendly option being considered, consisting of a couple of hundred deep boreholes that extract heat from the ground.
No greenhouse gases are released by this form of heat generation, such as is done when homeowners burn heating fuel, and there are no smog issues, such as from wood smoke.
The geothermal heat exchange system would have to be supplemented by another source of heat to meet peak demand on really cold days.
This peak demand source of heat could be anything from a boiler heated by wood chips to, should the dreaded Alaska Highway Natural Gas Pipeline ever roll through town, a natural gas boiler.
Whatever options are chosen, they do not come cheap.
Realistically it would probably be about $15 million.
This makes if too expensive to build for just a few homes, but it makes economic sense if developed for a large group of houses and buildings located close together.
Of course every house and office would have to use it.
People could not opt out of the district heating system because the efficiencies of scale would be lost.
However, this is no different than when houses are hooked up to the city water system.
Participation is essentially compulsory but the benefits and costs of clean drinking water piped into one’s home is much better than developing one’s own water well and treatment system.
The same would hold true for a district heating system.
It was hoped to have the district heating system as part of the first phases of Whistle Bend but it is now aimed to have it installed for future phases.
This delay is not due to neither a technical nor an engineering issue, but rather an ownership issue.
Basically, it comes down to who owns and operates a district heating system.
It can be treated like a public utility, similar to Yukon Energy or NorthwesTel.
Instead of providing electricity or telephone access, it would provide heat.
Or it could be jointly owned by all the businesses and residents who purchase heat from them.
This could be set up as a co-operative, or perhaps something similar to a condominium association.
Everyone has a say in how the system is run, and everyone pays in to keep the system running.
Another form of governance would be to have the city of Whitehorse deliver the district heating service.
The city already provides waste pickup and transit, not to mention emergency services and facilities such as the Canada Games Centre.
Running a small district heating system should be easily within its competence level.
District heating could even be developed as a private business.
In all cases issues would arise over how to get the rather large start-up capital and how to ensure it balances environmental responsibility with fiscal viability.
District heating can be a real benefit to a subdivision both in terms of cost and in terms of the environment.
It will take quite a bit of planning on how it will be owned and operated but once that has been sorted out it should be a real selling point in future phases of Whistle Bend.
Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.