BC Makes Jumbo Decision

Ktunaxa vow to keep fighting despite approval, while NDP doubts ski resort will ever be built.

By Andrew MacLeod 21 Mar 2012 |

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

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Jumbo Mountain, site of the approved resort. Photo: Dave Quinn.

The British Columbia government announced on Tuesday the approval of a controversial plan to build Jumbo Glacier ski resort in the southeast of the province, despite the Ktunaxa Nation's objection. New Democratic Party MLA Norm MacDonald said he doubts the project will ever be built.

"After more than 20 years the time has come for a decision," said Steve Thomson, the minister of forests, lands and natural resource operations. Explaining why he was making the announcement in Victoria instead of the area affected, he said, "This is a provincial decision with implications to all the people in the province."

The completed resort on a 5,965 hectare piece of land 57 kilometres west of Invermere in the Purcell Mountains would be roughly one-tenth the size of Whistler. Plans include 23 lifts, a 3,000 metre-high gondola and year-round skiing.

Opposition to the proposal has been strong in the area, particularly from the Ktunaxa First Nation which in 2010 released the Qat'muk Declaration saying the site is sacred and would be closed to the ski resort.

The planned resort is near the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy, and Thomson said the province is working with the Ktunaxa First Nation to establish another large wildlife management area to protect grizzly bear habitat.

'Rugby'-style decision: Thomson

"I expect the Ktunaxa will continue to have concerns about this," said Thomson. However, the declaration does not have the legal weight to block the proposal, he said.

He noted the Shuswap band in Invermere, which has an overlapping claim to the area, has agreed to the proposal and signed agreements for revenue sharing with the developer.

"It's divided our communities, and we wanted it over," said Bill Bennett, MLA for Kootenay East, who spoke at the announcement with Thomson. He thanked Thomson and Premier Christy Clark for having the courage to make the decision.

Had the decision been announced in the Kootenays, there would be a thousand opponents on one side of the street and a thousand supporters on the other side shouting at each other, Bennett said. "You would have perpetuated exactly the sort of dynamic that's existed in our communities."

The opposition to the project has been well organized and well informed, he said.

While much of the discussion of the project has been about the politics, it's worth noting the advantages of the project, added Bennett. With a base at 1,700 metres above sea level, moderate temperatures and year-round snow without the need to manufacture it, the resort will be unique in North America, he said.

Thomson said as a rugby player he learned to confront challenges directly, which was useful in making the decision. Bennett said, "It takes a rugby player frankly to step in and get his arms around this, and that's what he did."

Project lacks money: NDP's MacDonald

The project is unlikely to happen anytime soon, said NDP MLA MacDonald. Responding to the government's approval of the project, he said, "It doesn't actually change a great deal."

Despite Bennett's claims of divided communities, the majority of local people have been and remain opposed to the proposal, said MacDonald, who represents Columbia River-Revelstoke, the constituency that includes Invermere.

"This one has never had the fundamentals right," he said. People who live in the area say the project makes no sense from environmental, social or financial perspectives, he said, noting the Ktunaxa First Nation opposes it. "That hasn't changed."

When projects make sense, they gain local support and move much faster, he said.

MacDonald criticized the government for making the announcement in Victoria instead of a community in the area. "I find it hugely insulting," he said. "It felt pretty colonial, I have to say."

Nor does the project appear to have any money behind it, he said.

A contact for the proponent did not respond to an email by posting time, but architect Oberto Oberti has reportedly said he hopes to have phase one running within two years.

Possible investors will be warned: Ktunaxa

The proponent will have to be shopping around for investors, said Kathryn Teneese, the chair of the Ktunaxa Nation. Any possible investors should know that the Ktunaxa First Nation holds the area sacred and strongly opposes the project, she said.

"We intend to make sure part of that shopping list includes the fulsome picture," she said. "I think they need to know."

The Ktunaxa are leaving the door open for whatever action is necessary to stop the project, she said. "I think we have a responsibility to protect the area and it's one we take very seriously."

She said she was "disappointed, a little bit angry and somewhat dismayed" by the B.C. government's announcement Tuesday morning that it had approved the project. The Ktunaxa have been consistent in their opposition to the plan since it was first proposed, she said.

MacDonald said he suspects that if the NDP wins the election scheduled for May 2013, it would be possible to reverse the decision. The project requires the province to build a $200 million road, according to the environmental assessment, he noted.

"It will be one of those things that have to be figured out," he said. The BC Liberal government is in free fall and the Jumbo project is just one of the complications or "land mines" it is likely to leave for the next government, he said.

[Tags: Politics, Rights + Justice.]  [Tyee]

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