In an exclusive interview with Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Bill Bennett on Monday (November 19), The Valley Echo learned the B.C. government has issued letters patent for a new mountain resort municipality in the Jumbo Valley by the name of Jumbo Glacier Resort.

“As is the custom with a new municipality like this, we are appointing a mayor and two councillors,” Bennett said.

The $450-million high elevation glacier based ski resort is planned in three phases and will ultimately include 5,500 bed-units in a 104-hectare resort base area. It is projected to provide approximately 3,750 people years of construction employment and create 750 to 800 permanent full-time jobs. Its newly appointed mayor is Greg Deck, and councillors are Nancy Hugunin and Steve Ostrander. Hugunin is a well-known local entrepreneur, mother and grandmother, and serves as the Kootenay Regional Chairperson for the BC Ski Association. Ostrander, a retired professional forester, is currently a director for the Columbia Valley Food Bank, the Lake Windermere District Lions Club and the Columbia Headwaters Community Forest Initiative.

Deck was the first mayor of Radium Hot Springs when it incorporated and held that position for 18 years until retiring from office in 2008.

“He also sat on the regional district board and was chair for many years so he has experience,” said Bennett. “He’s also very credible and is known for his personal integrity.”

He stressed that Deck will not be working for either the developer or the Province. Retiring chief administrative officer from the town of Golden Phil Taylor will be the interim corporate offer, and will spend the next few months creating an original set of bylaws for the new community and ensuring that the municipality is operational by its official incorporation date of February 19, 2013.

“He’ll work with Greg  and the two councillors and it will operate the same as any mayor and council,” Bennett said. “Everything they do will be subject to the Local Government Act and the Community Charter.”

While the mayor and council will be responding to the developer’s requests for zoning and rights to build roads, streets and other infrastructure, the developer — Glacier Resorts Ltd. — will deal largely with the Province in terms of the access road, construction of lifts, gondolas and so forth on Crown land.

“I think it’s important for me to say that the Regional District of East Kootenay passed a resolution in 1996 to ask the Province to create a mountain resort municipality,” Bennett said. “That resolution has stayed on their  books for ten years, there was a brief period of a couple of years when they changed their mind and then back in 2009 they passed another resolution going back to the original one where they asked government to create a mountain resort municipality as the form of governance for this project.

“So we are in step with local government; we’re going with what they have asked us to do, we agree with local government that mountain resort municipality is the most effective way to deal with this project.”

When asked if mountain resort municipality status would permit Jumbo Glacier Resort to apply for provincial infrastructure funding for a new access road, Bennett replied that the B.C. government would not entertain an application from council for infrastructure support until there had been a democratic election with people residing in the resort municipality.

“The dealings that the proponent will have with the Province over the access road and over infrastructure and all those kinds of things will be exactly the same as any proponent in the same circumstances,” he said. “So in other words, the proponent here is not going to get any special deal on the access road. Whatever is the normal arrangement between a ski resort developer and the Province is the arrangement that we’ll have here.”

Bennett was quick to point out that over a dozen municipalities around the province were created when mines or dams were being built to provide a form of governance for the workers living there.

“And if (Jumbo Glacier Resort) goes ahead,” he said, “it will be a game changer for tourism in British Columbia… we will have something in British Columbia that does not exist anywhere else in North America.”

He equated Western Canada’s single biggest tourist attraction — the gondola in Banff — to Glacier Resorts Ltd.’s proposed gondola to the top of Glacier Dome overlooking the Lake of the Hanging Glacier.

“(It) will be about as spectacular an attraction as there is anywhere in North America,” Bennett said.

“I’m not in the business of predicting whether a proponent’s going to be successful, whether we’re talking about a mine or a resort or any other type of business venture,” he continued, “but if this does proceed, it definitely does have the potential to employ hundreds and hundreds of local people and to be a game changer in tourism.”

With respect to the widespread opposition the proposed resort has met from local First Nations, environmentalists and Kootenay residents as well as further afield, Bennett said the government would work through any sort of protests, including road blockages, should they happen to come up.

“We’re hoping that the opponents of the project will respect the law, and we’re also hoping that they will respect the due process that has led over the past 22 years to the Environmental Assessment Certificate in 2005, to the Master Development Plan in March 2012, and now to the incorporation of the mountain resort municipality,” said Bennett. “It’s a due process, everyone has had their chance to say what they think; the proponent has done what governments have over the years have asked of them, and now there’s a decision and the proponent now has a right to build the project.”

The Valley Echo was granted an embargoed media interview with Bennett the day before his formal public announcement on Tuesday (November 20) just prior to Monday’s press deadline. Check and next week’s issue for ongoing coverage and interviews.