By Greg Amos
After a 22-year effort in the face of strongly divided public opinion across the East Kootenays, the 5,925-hectare proposed Jumbo Glacier ski resort has been cleared for takeoff.
Using the powers created under Bill 41 in May, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Bill Bennett announced on Tuesday, November 20th the creation of a mountain resort municipality to encompass the Jumbo site.
“The choice of this form of governance is about planting the seed now that has the potential to grow over time into a place where people can work and live,” said Mr. Bennett, who also appointed a three-member council that will stay intact at Jumbo until at least November 30th, 2014.
Under the order-in-council from the provincial cabinet, valley entrepreneur Nancy Huganin and Invermere’s Steve Ostrander, a career forester, will serve as councillors under Greg Deck, who served as Radium Hot Springs’ first mayor from 1990 to 2008, and as Regional District of East Kootenay chair from 2002 to 2008.
Since 1996, the regional district has been mainly in support of the idea of using the mountain resort municipality structure for Jumbo. That position was last affirmed in 2009, though it’s been in flux since the mid-2000s.
“If we had chosen to not use the governance model requested by local governments, the regional district and local taxpayers would’ve been saddled with years of additional controversy, expense and uncertainty,” Mr. Bennett told media. “Hopefully now we have an opportunity to heal and move on.”
Deck will draw on $200,000 of provincial funding to get the municipality established. It’s an initial requirement in an area that has no population, no tax base, and no infrastructure — a situation Columbia River – Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald called “a shocking mismanagement of the powers that have been vested in this government.”
“I’ve not spoken to anyone outside the BC Liberal party who thinks that this legislation makes sense,” said Macdonald in a statement. “To create a town where there are no residents, to appoint a council that may never face election, and do this with no real possibility that a resort will be built is ridiculous.”
Until the council is inaugurated at their first meeting at a yet-to-be-determined location on February 19th, 2013, the community will be managed by interim corporate officer Phil Taylor, who most recently worked as chief administrative officer for the town of Golden.
The Jumbo site, located 55 kilometres west of Invermere, purports to offer world-class, year-round glacier skiing over 23 lifts, and at full build-out, would employ 750 people, about 250 more than now work at Panorama Mountain Village. As yet, the status of investors is unclear for the development, which over the past two decades has received support from Social Credit, NDP and BC Liberal governments.
During that time, the project received an Environmental Assessment certificate (in 2004), a Resort Master Plan (in 2007), and a Master Development Agreement (this March). Just two other resorts in B.C. have been given mountain resort municipality status: Whistler in 1975 and Sun Peaks in 2010.
The announcement comes 10 days before the Ktunaxa Nation planned to file a judicial review on the process behind the approval of Jumbo Glacier Resort’s Master Development Agreement, and the same day as the Jumbo Creek Conservation Society’s annual general meting.
“This once again shows the disdain demonstrated by the B.C. government towards our spiritual beliefs and the foundations of our culture,” said Ktunaxa Nation chair Kathryn Teneese in a statement. The Ktunaxa know the Jumbo area as Qat muk, and consider it a culturally important home to the grizzly bear spirit.
Bob Campsall of the Jumbo Creek Conservation Society said the fact the municipality and resort could be created without a public hearing is “an absolute disgrace.”
“It will be very difficult for any other government to reverse this thing, due to potential lawsuits that could arise,” he added. “You can be sure [the proponent] would be claiming damages and lost income.”
Invermere mayor Gerry Taft, who in September spearheaded a succesful Union of B.C. Municipalities motion to oppose the mountain resort municipality provisions created under Bill 41, said the decision is disappointing, but not surprising.
“It’s pretty clear the government was trying to get this announced prior to the Ktunaxa’s judicial review announcement,” he said. “I think their goal is to have the zoning approved and everything done before they lose power.”
Despite his council’s apprehensions, Taft said Invermere will try to work with the new municipality.
“All three of those people I know, and I really respect Steve and Nancy,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that being loyal to a government or a political party can result in someone getting a lot of appointments and positions of power.”
Jumbo won’t be Mr. Deck’s only new undertaking in the New Year; on January 1st, he also begins as chair of the Columbia Basin Trust, where he currently sits as vice-chair. Deck said he doesn’t believe the two roles will cause a conflict.
“The comments that I heard from those on the board who are opposed to [Jumbo] were essentially that they think that I am a reasonable choice to take on a job that they wish didn’t exist,” he said.
New councillor Steve Ostrander said he was chosen by Mr. Deck to join the council, and will aim to focus on ensuring the Jumbo valley remains accessible to all forms of recreation as the resort is developed.
“I’ve never been part of a council before, and I’m not really familiar with it, so it will be part of a learning experience for me,” he said. “I’m excited, because I’m personally quite interested in the whole process. I’m not so excited about the fact I know there are people who are opposed to anything up there.”