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BC creates Jumbo resort municipality despite strong opposition

British Columbia's cabinet has approved the incorporation of a mountain resort municipality in the Jumbo Valley in the East Kootenays, despite much opposition from local First Nations and other residents.

"This will give our communities a chance to heal from this 22-year-old controversy and move on," said Bill Bennett, the minister of community, sport and cultural development.

The process started under a Social Credit government had 10 years scrutiny from an NDP government and 12 years under the BC Liberals, said Bennett. When proponents go through a public process, they deserve a decision, he said. "They've got a 'yes' in this case and this project will be going forward."

The government appointed Greg Deck, Nancy Hugunin and Steve Ostrander as the first mayor and councillors for the resort municipality which is to be officially incorporated Feb. 19, 2013. Phil Taylor will serve as the interim corporate officer until the municipality's first meeting.

The ministry provided $260,000 to get the municipality started, Bennett said. At least a dozen times the province has incorporated resort or resource municipalities in places with no population, he said.

The Ktunaxa Nation Council has long opposed the development of a ski resort in the Jumbo Glacier, saying it is a sacred place. "This once again shows the disdain demonstrated by the BC government towards our spiritual beliefs and the foundations of our culture," said Kathryn Teneese, Ktunaxa Nation Chair, in a statement released before Bennett's press conference.

"We have clearly and consistently indicated that if this resort is built, it will critically damage our religious rights and freedoms, as well as our aboriginal rights, all of which are recognized by the Canadian Constitution," she said.

The First Nation is planning a Nov. 30 rally in Cranbrook and will file an application for a judicial review of the approval for the resort, the statement said.

The Kootenay environmental group Wildsight called the designation a "land grab" and highlighted that the government had created a muncipality with a population of zero. "This decision flies in the face of democratic land-use decisions, overwhelming public opposition, grizzly bear science, First Nations spiritual claims and opposition from the Union of BC Municipalities," the group said in a statement.

Local residents don't think the resort makes environmental or economic sense, said Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald. "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," he said in a news release. "A small group of Jumbo supporters are getting their way on this one: transferring control of public lands into private hands.”

It's a major decision for the government to make just six months before a provincial election, he said.

On Twitter Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall called the decision "a major slap in the face" to people in the Kootenays.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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