Jumbo saga reaches finale

A three-decade long disagreement comes to a close.

  • Jan. 18, 2020 9:00 a.m.

The long proposed Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resorts project — and the attendant battle over the future of the Upper Jumbo Valley and surrounding area, which has raged for three decades — is officially over.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada, acting on behalf of the Ktunaxa First Nation, has negotiated a financial settlement to cancel all the leases and tenures Glacier Resort Ltd. holds in the Upper Jumbo Valley and surrounding areas, marking the formal end of the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort, and clearing the way for a Qat’muk Indigenous Protected and Conservation Area. Qat’muk is the Ktunaxa term for the Upper Jumbo Valley, which the First Nation holds as sacred ground.

The fight for Jumbo has raged, often times with unveiled and deeply bitter animosity, for literally 30 years, dividing much of the Columbia Valley (and a good part of the rest of Kootenay region) into staunchly pro-resort and anti-resort camps, campaigning either for or against the long-planned international-scale, year-round destination ski resort.

“It’s a really huge deal. It sets the stage for what an Indigenous Protected and Conservation Area (IPCA) looks like in that area,” Invermere-based Nature Conservancy of Canada vice president Nancy Newhouse told the Pioneer, adding she could not disclose how much the buyout of the Glacier Resort Ltd. tenures cost.

“We can’t discuss that, based on the agreement,” she said, adding that “the idea of working with the Ktunaxa and supporting the creation of an IPCA aligns with our objectives as an organization. We are thrilled to be at this stage (having negotiated a settlement with resort proponents) of the process.”

As reported last summer, the federal government will give the Ktunaxa $16.1 million in funding over the next four years to help create the Qat’muk IPCA. This will be buttressed by an additional $5 million from the Wyss Foundation, the Wilburforce Foundation, Patagonia, the Donner Canadian Foundation and the Columbia Basin Trust for total project funding of $21 million.

“Qat’muk is the spiritual home of the grizzly bear and of profound importance to our Nation. Grizzlybear spirit’s home will become part of a larger Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA). So, today marks both an end and a beginning,” said Ktunaxa First Nation Chair Kathyrn Teneese in a press release.

The debate about Jumbo began, depending on your perspective, either in 1982 when a regional tourism study funded by the provincial and federal government identified the Upper Jumbo Valley as an ideal area for a destination ski resort; in 1990 when Phedias Management Corp, (a company headed by renowned ski resort designer Oberto Oberti) started discussing the idea of such a resort in Jumbo with B.C. government; or in 1991 when Phedias, on behalf of a consortium of investors called Glacier Resorts Ltd. formally submitted a proposal for Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort.

The ensuing three decades saw the Jumbo conflict stretch to saga-like proportions, with a seemingly unending number of protests, countless hours of debate — sometimes cordial, sometime rancorous — in local and regional government chambers (with multiple narrow votes by those governments), scrutiny and controversy at virtually each and every step as the proposed resort passed through a multi-decade, multi-faceted bureaucratic process (including several key B.C. ministerial decisions), and the eventual provincial creation of Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality. There were two blockades, several watchdog camps, concrete foundations laid in the Upper Jumbo Valley, the declaration of the ground as sacred by Ktunaxa in downtown Victoria, and a fine-art performance piece-cum-protest that saw an entire 50-part orchestra decked in black playing on Farnham Glacier. Hundreds if not thousands of bumper stickers (many against, but some in favour of the resort) proliferated on vehicles across the Kootenay, and no less than four lawsuits were launched either against the resort or by resort proponents, one of which went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and another of which was scheduled to do so in the near future.

When news the federal government had earmarked $16.1 million for a Qat’muk IPCA became public last summer many local residents wondered if the four-year timeline was overly optimistic and was bound – given the Glacier Resorts Ltd. tenures and leases in the Upper Jumbo Valley – to drag out for years if not decades in a quagmire of legal wrangling. The announcement earlier today of the negotiated settlement means this will not be the case, and effectively comes as the final salvo in the long-running Jumbo battle, as far as a ski resort development is concerned.

The Pioneer attempted to call Oberti for comment on the matter, but was unable to reach him prior to publication deadline.

There was no direct information on the next steps in creating the Qat’muk IPCA at the time of the announcement, but previously government officials had outlined that potential early steps, aside from dealing with existing tenures and leases, would likely include determining boundaries and conducting studies to assess ecological, cultural and spiritual values.

“Work will be ongoing over the next few years. There’s a lot of of momentum now, and the province and the Ktunaxa are eager to keep it going,” said Newhouse. “I’m personally quite excited to learn more about what Ktunaxa natural law and stewardship principles are.”

Newhouse couldn’t say what effect creating a Qat’muk IPCA in the Upper Jumbo Valley and adjoining areas would have for public access to places such as Jumbo Pass, Lake of the Hanging Glacier and Farnham Glacier in the long run, but did say that “public access to these places will remain as it currently is through the next few years during discussions on creating the IPCA,” and noted that the Qat’muk declaration includes a proclamation that the Ktunaxa will share Qat’muk with non-Ktunaxa when such use is respectful of Ktunaxa spiritual values and consistent with Qat’muk stewardship principles.

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