By Kelsey Verboom
After more than two decades of consideration, the Liberal government has given an approval that will allow Jumbo Glacier Resort to move ahead.
In an announcement made from the legislature in Victoria on March 20th, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson confirmed that the provincial government has signed the resort’s Master Development Agreement.
This one of the final steps in a two-decade process that now gives the developer, Glacier Resorts Ltd., the green light to proceed with the project.
The Master Development Agreement the government signed contains all the terms and conditions under which the resort can be developed. It also outlines events of default, insurance requirements, fees to be paid, and terms of renewal.
“I made this decision after reviewing all the relevant, extensive documentation that is on this file, visiting the site and meeting with both First Nations and the proponent,” Minister Thomson said. “I recognize and respect there have been differing views on this project, but after more than 20 years of this extensive review and consultation, it was time to make a decision.”
The proposal to build the $450 million resort 55 kilometres west of Invermere was submitted to the government in 1991, and has since been tied up in what the ministry said is one of the most extensive project review processes they have ever engaged in.
The proposed development meets all the necessary approvals, environmental assessments, and requirements, Minister Thomson said.
“The proponent has had to meet 195 commitments to get the Environmental Assessment Certificate, and I’m confident that the project will provide local job creation and economic growth for the region while upholding responsible environmental stewardship.”
Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett joined Minister Thomson in Victoria for the announcement, thanking the minister and Premier Christy Clark for having the courage to make a difficult decision.
Both Liberal leaders acknowledged that the decision won’t please everyone, and Mr. Bennett praised the opposition for their dedication and the level of knowledge they demonstrated throughout the process.
“I can tell you unequivocally that the people in the East Kootenay will be happy that we can finally have some certainty around this and we can start to heal and get back to being the really pleasant, wonderful communities that we want to have,” Mr. Bennett said.
Kootenay-Columbia MLA Norm Macdonald of the New Democratic Party disagreed, saying the decision hasn’t changed anything and that he doubts the development will ever go forward.
“The community that’s most affected by the project is against it, and will be going on into the future. That hasn’t changed,” Mr. Macdonald said.
He also criticized the province’s decision to make the announcement in Victoria, rather than travelling to the East Kootenays to deliver the news.
“It’s extremely disrespectful,” he said. “To think that we’re sitting out here in the Kootenays like some colony that they can make decisions for, on things that affect us so profoundly; I just do not accept that.”
Giving the news from Victoria was a responsible decision, Mr. Bennett said. If the announcement had been made locally, there would have been two thousand people yelling at each other, he said, which would only perpetuate the type of dynamic he hopes the process will move away from.
Grant Costello, senior vice-president of Jumbo Glacier Resort, reacted emotionally to the decision, and said he is both relieved and excited for what is “just the beginning”.
“I’m excited about the opportunity for the community and about the jobs that will be coming here; and good jobs, too, not just the kind of jobs our critics talk about. We know that there are lots of good management jobs, jobs for skilled workers, construction, and lots of new business start-ups.
“Hopefully we will move forward to stimulate the economy here, because it really needs a shot in the arm.”
In response to those who have criticized the government and Glacier Resorts for pushing forward a project which some say has no funding backing it, Mr. Costello said the signing of the Master Development Agreement will now allow them to attract the necessary funding.
“The decision today gives us the security to know that we can attract capital and new investment, whereas before there was just so much uncertainty we couldn’t really even open those discussions up.”
A delegation of local leaders and Glacier Resorts Ltd. representatives travelled to France in February to meet with France Neige International, an entity specializing in ski hill developments. Representatives from France will be visiting the Columbia Valley in coming weeks, and could potentially become investors in the resort.
To start the first phase of the three-phase approval requires a cash injection of around $50 million, Mr. Costello said. The first phase would include a gondola, a day lodge, a facility at the top of Glacier Dome, and road access.
“Financial stability is always the first priority. We have to get off on the right foot with a small development first.”
However, before any shovel can hit the dirt, the proponent must first complete a number of requirements as part of their Environmental Assessment Certificate and the Master Development Agreement. Further grizzly bear and archeological studies must be completed, among other stipulations.
The studies will likely be executed this summer season.
The Environmental Certificate that has been issued for the development expires in October 2014, so Glacier Resorts Ltd. plans to begin substantial work before then, Mr. Costello said.
But before the project can go any further, the proponent must also go through what the province described as “relatively minor permitting”.
The Master Development Agreement is a land use document that itself allows a certain level of authority to proceed, but land use decisions in terms of zoning have to follow the document. Land use controls with respect to the zoning of the Crown land must be hammered out, and there are three options by which Glacier Resorts Ltd. can proceed.
Jumbo could become a Mountain Resort Municipality through the provincial government; it could also operate through the Regional District of East Kootenay; or it could become annexed (an extension of) to an existing municipality.
The government is still considering the incorporation of a Mountain Resort Municipality, which was requested by the Regional District of East Kootenay in 2009, Minister Thomson said, adding that the approach is also supported by the proponent.
Following this week’s decision, the Ministry of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development will approach local First Nations to engage in the consultation process in relation to the potential option of incorporating a Mountain Resort Municipality, Minister Thomson said.
While some are viewing the province’s decision to sign the Master Development Agreement as a done deal, others say they are more prepared than ever to fight the development.
Jim Galloway, board member of the Jumbo Creek Conservation Society, said the government heard the voices of the opposition, but chose to ignore it, and he will do whatever it takes to stop the project.
“What has gone on in the past 20 years is really only a warm-up for what’s going to happen in the years ahead. If the Jumbo Glacier Resort promoters think that the way is now clear for them to start developing, they should think again.”
When asked if he and members of his group were willing to face legal consequences if they stand in the way of the development, Mr. Galloway said, “There’s a distinct possibility that all these things may happen.”
Wildsight, a Kootenay-based environmental organization has vocally opposed the project for years. Project manager for Wildsight, Robyn Duncan, said the province’s decision saddened her.
“We obviously think it’s a very unfortunate decision to hear coming out of the province in spite of the fact that there’s overwhelming opposition from across the Kootenays, from the Ktunaxa First Nation, and from the leading grizzly bear biologist in North America.”
Ms. Duncan said the grizzly bear information on which the government based part of its decision is outdated data.
“In one way, it’s nice to see this moving forward,” she conceded. “We’ve all been sitting here in limbo. Everyone has been looking for the next step, and it’s great to see what the next step is.
“However, I don’t consider this to be the last step in any way. It’s only the next step in this long process … here we go again.”
Ms. Duncan would not say what Wildsight plans to do next to oppose the project, saying membership will meet in the coming days and weeks to formulate a plan.
Another group vehemently against Jumbo Glacier Resort is the Ktunaxa First Nation, who say they don’t oppose development in general, but that any development in the Jumbo Valley would “cause serious and irreversible harm to the Ktunaxa Nation, to our culture, to grizzly bears and to many other wildlife and environmental values.”
Both the Ktunaxa First Nation and the Shuswap Indian Band claim the Jumbo Valley area is part of their traditional territories. The Ktunaxa oppose the project, while the Shuswap Indian Band supports it.
Beginning in 2006, the Ktunaxa engaged in “deep consultation” with the government. The government agreed that a Master Development Agreement would not be concluded until consultation with the First Nation was wrapped up. After notifying the Ktunaxa in 2009 that consultation was considered complete, the Ktunaxa Nation made a declaration, known as Qat’muk, about the spiritual value of the Jumbo area. Government extended talks with the Ktunaxa to consider the declaration.
Minister Thomson said he feels the Ktunaxa have now been adequately consulted, and that he respectfully took all their input into consideration before making his decision.
As a result of consultations with the Ktunaxa and their concerns about preserving the valley’s grizzly bear population, the government has decided to pursue the establishment of a wildlife management area.
Kathryn Teneese, Ktunaxa Nation Chair, said that despite the government’s decision, the First Nation will continue to develop and implement the Qat’muk management plan in accordance with Qat’muk Declaration and Stewardship Principles.
“Ktunaxa will exercise our responsibility to protect the sacred, cultural and other values of Qat’muk in the most effective ways possible,” she said.
On the flip side of the Jumbo coin, the Shuswap Indian Band welcomed the government’s announcement. The Shuswap have successfully negotiated an agreement with Glacier Resorts Ltd. and the province.
“We certainly think it’s about time the announcement was made,” said Dean Martin, CEO of Kinbasket Development Corporation, which is the business arm of the Shuswap Indian Band.
“We feel comfortable that this project meets all the requirements that this band puts out. We’re looking forward to getting moving, and we at the Shuswap Band welcome the proponent and its investors into our traditional territory.”
Moving forward, as the ongoing saga of Jumbo Glacier Resort unfolds, MLA Bill Bennett said he hopes the broken communities can begin to heal, while some say the decision has only further divided residents.
Others, like Mr. Costello, maintain there should always be room for differing opinions.
“Going back to the way people say this community is so divided, I think that the environment isn’t the only thing in life. There are other aspects to life: social, cultural, economic, and so on.
“I would hope that people would be more tolerant of the fact that we have diverse viewpoints in Canada, and that someone should be able to hold their views and not be attacked by intolerant people.”
Glacier Resorts Ltd. is willing to work with anyone who has questions or concerns, Mr. Costello added.
“We’re prepared to work with whomever to try and explain our views and explain the facts of the matter as we see them, because a lot of the time they have been distorted. We’re prepared to work with any group who wants to be reasonable and is tolerant of respectful human interaction. We’d like to move forward.”