UPDATED: Jumbo developer promises to push forward



Jumbo Valley is located in the heart of the Purcell Mountains, 55 km west of Invermere.  File Photo
Jumbo Valley is located in the heart of the Purcell Mountains, 55 km west of Invermere.File Photo

Environment Minister Mary Polak has determined that the Jumbo Glacier Resort project has not been substantially started.

The result of Ms. Polaks decision (announced on June 18th) is that Glacier Resort Ltd.s Environmental Assessment Certificate has expired, meaning the proponent cannot proceed with developing the project unless a new certificate is obtained. However, Glacier Resorts Ltd. senior vice-president Grant Costello said this is not the end of plans for a development in the Jumbo Valley.

I believe the Minister erred in her conclusion, that her decision is clearly not in the broad public interest and knowingly or not caters to special interest groups and harms the reputation of the province both home and abroad, Mr. Costello wrote in a letter received by The Pioneer on June 24th.

Its important to note that in a decision like this, its a statutory decision and so I am limited by law in my ability to discuss matters with colleagues, or with anyone to be honest, except those directly involved such as those reporting through the Environmental Assessment Office, said Ms. Polak during the live conference call she hosted on June 18th regarding her decision. Her statement was in response to The Pioneers question of whether her decision would be met with opposition from within the BC Liberal party, and specifically from East Kootenay MLA Bill Bennett who has been a long-time supporter of the proposed ski resort.

She went on to say all her colleagues have a high degree of respect for the statutory decision-making process and she doesnt anticipate that her decision will cause any issues with respect to her relations and workings with her colleagues.

Norm Macdonald, MLA for Columbia River-Revelstoke, thinks otherwise.

There is no question that Mary Polak has made a decision that is going to have colleagues angry at her, but it is the right decision, he said, adding the minister deserves a lot of praise.

One expects ministers to do the right thing, but these are people, and at a personal level, she has done something that I think is brave, Mr. Macdonald said.

Not surprisingly, I am disappointed, Jumbo Glacier Resort mayor Greg Deck said. I would presume that the proponent will be meeting with the province to understand more fully the rationale and the options, but I am not party to that process.

Mr. Deck said if negotiations between Glacier Resorts Ltd. and the province cease, the $1 million that has been allocated to his council over a five-year term will likely be reallocated elsewhere.

We exist to provide a municipal underpinning to the agreement between the province and Jumbo Glacier Resort, and if those necessary agreements are not in place, then our funding will be in question, Mr. Deck said.

Mr. Costello and his team met with officials from the Environmental Assessment Office in Vancouver on June 22nd to discuss Ms. Polaks decision.

In his letter to The Pioneer, Mr. Costello further stated that he will be advising Glacier Resorts Ltd.s board of directors to seek legal action against the province for past and future financial damages to the projects local and international investors.

As well, we will advise our board to respectfully decline Minister Polaks offer to re-enter the financial and political quagmire called the Environmental Assessment Act, Mr. Costello wrote.

Finally, Mr. Costello wrote he and his executive team will request that the board of directors authorize revisions to Glacier Resort Ltd.s Master Development Plan, which would include scaling down the project to a level where it would not trigger a new Environmental Assessment.

We anticipate construction of the Glacier Dome phase will be underway this time next year, Mr. Costello concluded.

The qualifications of a substantial start are not set in stone. In making her decision, the minister was tasked to focus on all of the physical activities that had taken place at the project site, including the laying of two slabs of concrete in an avalanche zone.

Legally, I think this was the best decision for the province to make, said Invermere mayor Gerry Taft. This would become a precedent for other projects. Most projects that get environmental assessment approval are mining projects, so if the bar remained so low for the substantial start of projects, that could have much bigger impacts than just Jumbo.

He thinks the province was likely disappointed by what the developer had not done, and that it is now time to start fixing many of the problems that had been created over the last 24 years.

I hope the province dismantles the municipality immediately, Mr. Taft said. In the interim, if this is going to be tied up in court, there is absolutely no reason that the fake town of Jumbo and the $250,000 (per year) to keep that going should be continued.

When The Pioneer asked Ms. Polak how her decision would affect Jumbo council, she said the nature of her decision meant that the other ministries involved (Forest, Lands and Natural Resources, and Sport, Community and Cultural Development) had only just found out the determination on Jumbo.

With any government decision, theres a significant amount of discussion between Ministries that have an interest in a particular matter or have a role to play. Because of the nature of this decision, that has not taken place, she said.

Now those ministries will now have to turn their minds to analyzing what is their next step with respect to their responsibilities.

In response to The Pioneers question on whether the land so far affected by construction would be remediated, Ms. Polak replied, that will be the next step in the process.

We will work with the proponent to determine what if anything needs to take place on the site and, again, its the nature of the decision, she said. Until my determination is announced, none of that work was possible to take place.

Jim Galloway, director of Jumbo Creek Conservation Society, said despite his concerns with what Glacier Resorts Ltd. will do next, the fact that Ms. Polak made the right decision should be celebrated.

That environmental certificate deserved to be pulled because no one in their right mind could possibly say that they had achieved a substantial start to the project, Mr. Galloway said. Right now, this looks very bad for Glacier Resorts Ltd.

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