Gerry Wilkie has sat on the Regional District of East Kootenay Board of Directors since 2008.
The Area G Director has been steadfast in his opposition to Jumbo Glacier Resort, and said he was disappointed by the provincial government’s decision to approve the development’s master agreement last week.
“I agree that a decision had to be made, but I strongly disagree with the decision.”
The resort, the boundaries of which fall just outside of Area G, will have minimal to no economic impact in the valley, Director Wilkie maintains.
“Initially, as we all know, there will be a flurry of benefit in the job market for building this, and building that, but I think we all understand that this is not a ski area; it is a real estate development … it will be a little world unto itself and there will be very little economic spin-off in the long run.”
Now that the decision has been made, Director Wilkie said he has concerns about the yet-unknown factors of how the development will affect local government and taxpayers.
“How will the resort affect policing, safety, hospitals, schools, and taxpaying elements? I see there has been no discussion about that, but a huge amount of discussion about the environmental impact. There has been not nearly the amount of discussion we should have been having about the socioeconomic benefits downstream.”
As far as governance is concerned, Director Wilkie conceded that designating the development as a Mountain Resort Municipality would make the most sense, although he is concerned about how such a designation would interact with the regional district board. The regional district needs to be involved in some way, he insisted.
“The governance is such a nebulous thing, and the government hasn’t even begun to deal with that. I would prefer the whole thing to be referred back to the regional district. I don’t know enough about what they’re proposing, but I would like the regional district to have a say in the governance.”
Director Wilkie maintains that local government should never have given up control of the decision to the provincial government.
“Moving forward, I think the provincial government has to get together with the local communities and the regional district and convey some idea of how they’re going to handle their decision.
“They have a distinct responsibility to come back to us, not just to the proponents, and say, ‘This is what we’re planning to do.”
The government’s decision to allow the project to proceed won’t change the local dynamic between community members, Director Wilkie said, but recent news reports that have the RCMP on standby are “ludicrous.”
“There will be demonstrations of course, and the debate will continue just as it has in the past: in a generally civil manner.”
Director, Area F
Wendy Booth has been Area F Director for the Regional District of East Kootenay since 2008. The Jumbo Glacier Resort development falls within her area’s boundaries.
In 2009, Director Booth voted against sending the land use decision to Victoria, but she said the recent decision was a relief.
“For several years now, we [the regional district] have been asking the province to make a decision on Jumbo, and they did. I’m happy that the province has had the courage to make this difficult decision.”
The valley needs jobs, and Jumbo will provide that, Director Booth said. “We [the board of directors] asked for this decision, and we got it. I believe it is time to accept it, respect it, and move forward. We now have such an opportunity to create something truly unique that everyone can be proud of.”
Jumbo has been the “elephant in the room” for so long, Director Booth said she hopes the recent announcement will allow people to move past the hush-hush aspect of the issue.
“It is time to come together and have conversations and open relationships so that all sectors and interests can work together.
“I hope that we will see groups coming together to have conversations and build relationships that will benefit the valley. We have the opportunity to truly create something special that we all can be a part of.”
Mayor, Canal Flats
Ute Juras has held a seat on the Regional District of East Kootenay Board of Directors since 2005, when she was a councillor for Canal Flats. She has since become mayor, and still sits on the regional board as the community’s representative.
Although the Village of Canal Flats has never made an official resolution to support or oppose Jumbo Glacier Resort, Mayor Juras said the government’s recent announcement was a let-down.
“I was disappointed, but not surprised. Personally I feel very strongly that either way, the decision should have been made locally, whether it was in favour or in opposition to the project.”
Mayor Juras said she personally opposes the project because “all the locals and First Nations oppose it.”
The possibility of the resort proceeding raises all kinds of technical questions, she added.
“I’m still very concerned about the costs to the taxpayers for the continued maintenance of the project.”
Policing in particular is of concern to Mayor Juras, who said she worries an already minimal amount of policing in Canal Flats could deteriorate if the police are further stretched to police Jumbo.
Like her fellow board member Gerry Wilkie, Mayor Juras wonders what the governance of Jumbo Glacier Resort will look like.
“If an appointed body is making decisions for the resort municipality, which I guess is fine, are they going to have a seat at the regional district table?
“If they do, I have a big concern about that; about having a non-elected person on the board.”
She said she also doubts what kind of economic impact the development will have.
“Everyone is talking about the great economic impact it will have. Personally, I don’t think people will travel that far for minimum-wage jobs. I think it will be like Panorama, where they bring in overseas staff.”
Moving forward, Mayor Juras said she needs to “wait and see” before making any further judgements about the decision and how it will play out.
“Yes, the announcement was made that the government accepted the master plan, but that’s all the information they told us. We need to know more.”
Mayor, Village of Radium Hot Springs
The Village of Radium Hot Springs is the only valley council to vocally support Jumbo.
“I personally believe the proper decision was made — the proponent has done everything asked of them over the years, and more,” Mayor Conklin said. “If you actually take the name ‘Jumbo’ out of the equation and look strictly at the process, then there was no other decision that could have been made.”
Mayor Conklin travelled to France last month as part of a group meeting with potential resort investors. She faced criticism from Mayor Gerry Taft for going, but Mayor Conklin said the trip made sense.
“Why would we not look at a group who would like to invest in our valley and share their knowledge of ski resorts and tourism?”
It is too early to speculate whether Radium could be a community that Jumbo would want to work with, Mayor Conklin said.
“Only time will tell. Now it is time for the communities to heal and work towards making this the most environmentally sound resort in the world.”
Mayor, District of Invermere
Mayor Gerry Taft and the District of Invermere Council are the only local government to maintain a resolution that officially opposes Jumbo Glacier Resort.
The district continues to oppose the project because “the people don’t support it, and to a certain degree we represent those people,” Mayor Taft said.
The economic benefits of the project have been overstated, and it is not the “economic saviour” people make it out to be, he added.
“As an example, I think realistically the Canfor sawmill in Radium has a much bigger economic impact and benefit to the valley as a whole than Jumbo ever would if built as proposed.”
If the development goes ahead, Mayor Taft said he has major concerns about Jumbo adding stress to Invermere’s infrastructure, like some of the town’s roads that will be needed to access the resort.
“We don’t feel that Invermere taxpayers should construct or maintain a road for thru-traffic to the resort. We have been given loose assurances in the past that if Jumbo was approved the province would take back the road, so we’re definitely expecting that should happen.
Another lingering question is how Jumbo will be governed. Mayor Taft called the idea of the government potentially appointing a council to Jumbo if it were made a Mountain Resort Municipality “totally wacky and ridiculous.”
Land use decisions belong with the regional district, he said.
“I think they are just seeing it as a way to get the land use approved without going through the public hearing process.”
When asked if Invermere would ever pursue becoming the town Jumbo may wish to join with, Mayor Taft said it is an unlikely option.
“If there were a bigger regional area perspective then anything is possible, but it’s very unlikely that the proponent would want to take Jumbo on as a little circle all on its own.”
Despite the District of Invermere’s opposition to the project, the province’s decision must be respected, Mayor Taft said.
“Although Invermere stated opposition to the concept and is really concerned with some of the specifics, like governance and roads in Invermere, the reality is we as a municipality are a creature of the province.
“The process is a provincial decision right now; it’s not our decision to make. Whether we like the decision or not, we recognize that. With that in mind we also have to be realistic and pragmatic, and be willing to work with the province and the proponent … we have to try to get the best deal for Invermere and try to take care of our residents and taxpayers.”
Former mayor, Village of Radium
Greg Deck was the first mayor of Radium. He was mayor for 18 years, retiring from office in 2008. Mr. Deck has supported Jumbo since its conception, and helped shape Radium’s current stance on the development project. *Editor’s note: former mayor of Invermere, Mark Shmigelsky, was contacted for an interview, but declined the chance to comment.
Q: Radium was the first, and is still the only, local municipality to vocally support Jumbo. The initial stages of support happened while you were Mayor. Can you please elaborate on this history.
A: “Radium and Invermere chose to participate formally in the local government portion of Jumbo’s Environmental Assessment review. The RDEK did not, on the basis that it ought not to take a formal position if there were a chance that it would later have to hold a public hearing on the issue.
“It was when asked for our position as part of the Environmental Assessment process that we passed the formal resolution in support, but I don’t think that it came as a surprise to anyone who followed politics in Radium.
“Nothing that we learned as part of the Environmental Assessment review caused us to question our early support. On the contrary, the intense review, leading to 195 specific developmental and operational requirements, was confirmation that our insistence on the highest environmental standards would be met.”
Q: What kind of a reaction did Radium council receive after voicing its support?
A: “Relatively little. As I noted in the previous answer, we had been clear about our stance for years, so the resolution wasn’t really ‘news.’ Most of us on Council had already had numerous situations when we were called upon outside of council chambers to explain ourselves, and the official announcement didn’t really add much more to those regular conversations in the region.”
Q: Why did Radium choose to be supportive of the project?
A: “For the reason noted earlier, namely that of increasing the international profile of tourism in our region.
“We felt this more keenly, perhaps, than some other communities, given the large part of our economy that depends on tourism. And as our political experience grew, we were also increasingly alert to the need to create additional sources of provincial and regional revenue to pay for the additional demands that we make as citizens for public services.
“It’s not ‘all about money,’ as I was reminded several times, but that is how we pay for teachers and nurses. And with serious contraction in the forestry and mining industry, which were the traditional source of public funds in B.C., we needed to match our appetite for services with our willingness to adapt to the other economic activities needed to fund them.”
Q: What was your reaction to last week’s decision by the provincial government to allow Jumbo to go ahead?
A: “I was pleased for two reasons. As noted, I think it is the kind of project that we need to pursue in the province to maintain a healthy economy, from which so many of our other public and private initiatives derive.
“I am also pleased to see that, however belatedly, we play by the rules when we review projects on public land in B.C. The proponents met every demand placed in front of them with hard science and good faith, and it’s good to see that this counts for something. If not, I think we would have had to tell potential investors in the province that our processes are arbitrary and that meeting them provides no certainty whatsoever.”
Q: It has taken more than 20 years for the project to proceed. From a government process perspective, do you think that is an acceptable amount of time? Why or why not?
A: “I don’t think anyone, on either side of the issue, thinks that this was an efficient or fair way to conduct public policy.
“The Jumbo proponents had the misfortune of timing their application just as the province was trying to find a better way, or several better ways, to make these decisions. I hope that we are better prepared for similar applications in the future.”
Q: In your opinion, do the current mayor and council of Radium have the correct stance towards Jumbo, especially now that the project has been approved?
A: “The local economy has been hurt by the long-running closure of the Canfor mill in Radium, combined with a drop in tourism. The project has been improved by its extensive reviews through CASP, CORE and the Environmental Assessment office. Now, more than ever, we need the immediate construction jobs, leading to the operation of a tourism asset that will show our natural resources to the world in the most respectful way possible.”
Q: How do you think Jumbo will affect the valley’s economy?
A: “We operate more and more in a global environment, so small improvements locally can be overwhelmed by international events, but with that proviso, I think it will add a modest boost to the construction sector as soon as work begins.
“As the project nears the completion of its first stage, I would expect a marketing campaign that will begin to raise awareness of our region, followed by clients of Jumbo who will visit the rest of our region as part of their trip. That should increase business throughout the valley, which in turn should increase confidence in our business operators to expand or upgrade their facilities. I look for a virtuous circle.”
Q:How do you think Jumbo will affect the valley’s environment?
A: “The addition of human settlement to the backcountry comes at an environmental cost.
“We all know what carnage we do throughout the valley to wildlife on our highways, and I think transportation to Jumbo will be the biggest impact.
“The Jumbo village will be visible from Jumbo pass, and that will frustrate and anger many people for years, who climb that trail to get away from human activity. I don’t discount the importance of those losses or changes.
“I do believe that the biggest challenges to the valley’s environment occur in the valley bottom, where we don’t have the compactness of the Jumbo village design, where we have constant interference with wildlife, and where the impact on winter range seems to me much more important than the alienation of a small part of one of many high-altitude valleys.
“I hope that the design of the Jumbo village and its operation can serve as a model for what we could try to achieve down in the main valley.”
Q: There has already been years of strife, division, and broken friendships over Jumbo. Can you share some of your thoughts about how the dynamics between people of the valley are going to be affected by this decision?
A: “There are two Jumbos.
“One is the physical project, complete with the many requirements designed to mitigate the damage to wildlife in that drainage.
“It will never appeal to people who would have preferred no development there, and who remember it as terrain uninhabited by humans. But I expect that it will hold great appeal to people who are visiting that location for the first time and who are pleased to be guided to the appropriate places for a safe and environmentally responsible experience in what is truly a remarkable landscape.
“For those people, as for visitors to the top of Kicking Horse ski hill, or even for visitors to older developments like the Chateau Lake Louise, it is a chance for non-alpinists to get a glimpse
of what only the more adventurous visitors have seen before.
“And I hope that it will give them a better understanding of what that environment offers and requires, and that they will take from their visit to a ‘developed’ part of it, a reverence for the
larger, undisturbed, landscape that remains.
“With any luck, over time, most of us will appreciate the ability to take our visitors to a resource where this brief exposure to an extraordinary location can occur.
“The other Jumbo is symbolic. It represents ‘development.’ It stands in conveniently for all the seemingly inexorable growth that has changed where we live.
“People who have lived here for all or most of our lives can point to it as the most high-profile example of the wave after wave of unwelcome changes that we have experienced. (We don’t dwell so much on the welcome parts of that change, such as the facilities that we now depend on, and which we would not have been able to support with our old population and economy. We seem just to take them as due to us for the other stuff.)
“People who made the move here recently, after carefully researching all the other possible locations for a recreational or retirement home, are aghast whenever some change in the valley alters the basis for their previous analysis. Opposing Jumbo is a way to act on that frustration as well.
“Jumbo is perfect for this symbolic duty. It is incredibly photogenic. Its utility as a symbol can be achieved with just a picture of a glorious alpine view over a caption asking: ‘Do you want this wrecked for personal greed?’
“Never mind that there is probably not a single treasured building in Canada that doesn’t sit on a site that would also have photographed well before construction. Never mind that the village won’t be built up on the mountains or the glacier. Never mind that successful ski resorts bring funds to public coffers. Such an image is not intended to be the basis for a real discussion of public policy.
“This other Jumbo works as an emotional trigger, as a recruiting vehicle for people whose passion is needed to participate in more complicated, public processes elsewhere.
“Those processes will occur down in the valley bottom, and they will involve our friends and neighbours, whom it is much more difficult to oppose loudly than someone from far away.
“This symbolic Jumbo will endure much longer as an issue than the physical one merits, I think, because those other, complicated, messy, issues will not be solved easily or quickly, and a charismatic symbol will remain a useful tool.”
Q: What do you hope to see moving forward?
A: “I would hope for some successes down here in the valley, where the issues are much harder and much closer at hand.
“Many of us who found ourselves on opposing sides of Jumbo still have much in common on what I believe are more critical environmental issues than Jumbo. I hope that we get soon to some joint successes on those other issues in a way that allows us to move past our differences on Jumbo.”