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Labour + Industry

A Jumbo Summer Ahead?

Opposition continues to dog the resort town with no residents, while the coming BC election raises stakes.

Bill Metcalfe 21 Mar

Bill Metcalfe is a radio and print journalist based in Nelson, B.C. He's written about Jumbo since 2004. Find his previous Tyee articles here.

A provincially appointed mayor in a town with no residents, two court challenges, plans for glacier ski tours above Jumbo Valley this summer, and an upcoming provincial election that could change everything -- that's the reality for an East Kootenay real estate and ski resort development proposal as it enters its 23rd year of controversy.

On Feb. 18, the West Kootenay EcoSociety filed an application asking the B.C. Supreme Court to review the legality of a recent amendment to the B.C. Local Government Act that enabled the recent creation of the Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality.

The EcoSociety's lawyer, Judah Harrison, says the group will argue that the existence of actual residents is a legal prerequisite for a municipality.

"In common law there are two main purposes of a municipality, two fundamental aspects: they are democratic and they must act in the public interest," Harrison says.

"To be democratic you obviously need a populace -- you cannot be democratic for no people. And you can't act in the public interest if there is no public. This is built into every definition of a municipality throughout history. We will be citing historic documents and also case law."

Harrison will argue that B.C.'s Local Government Act and Community Charter are both predicated on the existence of citizens living in the municipality.

And he'll argue that before amending the Local Government Act, the B.C government did not consult the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) as required by the Community Charter. Harrison says the government merely informed the UBCM of the changes.

The UBCM is not happy about that. At its annual convention in Sept. 2012, the group resolved that it "does not support the concept of an unelected body making land decisions for an area with no population." The Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments passed a similar resolution at its annual meeting in Trail in April 2012.

Harrison says that Jumbo supporters point to earlier examples of planned municipalities in B.C., like Tumbler Ridge, Sun Peaks and Whistler, to justify the creation of instant towns.

"But it has never been challenged," he says. "The fact that it has been done before does not matter to us. That does not change whether it was legal or not."

The newly appointed mayor of Jumbo, Greg Deck, thinks it makes sense to plan a town before it's built, and that a town council should do it, even if it's only a temporarily appointed body. He said there is precedent for the way the municipality is developing.

"Often in B.C. it is the site of a new mine like Tumbler Ridge or Logan Lake, but it could also be the site of a significant tourism asset such as Jumbo Glacier Resort. In each of those cases, the province appoints an initial council to get things ready properly from the start."

Deck comes to his role with a lot of municipal and regional experience. He organized municipal status for Radium Hot Springs in 1990 and then became its first mayor. He is a former board member of the Regional District of East Kootenay, and a long-time board member and current chair of the Columbia Basin Trust.

Years in the making

The completed real estate development and all-season ski resort in the Jumbo Valley near Invermere, to be constructed on Crown land, would consist of a village of condos, chalets, shops and hotels with thousands of guests and residents. It would provide 20 lifts for expensive year-round skiing on several nearby glaciers.

Since 1991 the project has navigated a labyrinth of lobbying, debate, and significant public opposition, successfully passing through the provincial government's environmental assessment process in 2008. In early 2012 the government gave the project the go-ahead by agreeing to Jumbo Glacier Resort Ltd.'s Resort Master Plan.

Opponents of the project are concerned about its economic feasibility, effects on grizzly populations, global warming and integrity of glaciers, water quality, adequacy of groundwater supply, waste management, and the cost to taxpayers. The developer and the B.C. government say these issues are adequately addressed in the Resort Master Plan.

The Ktunaxa Nation, which has opposed the project over the years, has also filed a judicial review application that challenges the government's spring 2012 approval of the project.

The Ktunaxa petition to the B.C. Supreme Court refers to the area called Qat'muk, which includes the Jumbo Valley. It asks the court to order that Qat'muk is sacred to the Ktunaxa, that construction of the Jumbo project is incompatible with the sacred nature of the area, and that the project would interfere with religious practices involving grizzly bears and Grizzly Bear Spirit.

The petition also asks that the court set aside the government's approval of the project, grant a temporary injunction against all construction until the court reaches its decision, and grant a permanent injunction prohibiting development in the Jumbo Valley.

"We do not feel all the information we presented was fully considered," Kathryn Teneese, chair of the Ktunaxa Nation, told The Tyee. "There was not full consideration of the cultural information as it relates to the area."

"It's long overdue," she said, "that we start asking harder questions of the B.C. government, and challenge their process."

The Shuswap Band, a 250-member First Nations group that lives nearest to the Jumbo Valley, does support the project.

But Teneese says that "the activity is taking place in Ktunaxa territory and we act on behalf of the Ktunaxa Nation. The Shuswap are recent migrants to the territory and may have their opinions, but the fact is that we are acting on what we know, that this is taking place in our territory."

Jumbo Glacier Resorts has countered with the assertion that the Ktunaxa, over 20 years of discussion of the project, never mentioned Qat'muk until last year, implying that the First Nations group has embellished the sacredness of the area to bolster its court case.

Democratically created?

The word "democracy" crops up a lot in the Jumbo debate, from both sides.

In 2009 Jumbo Glacier Resorts Ltd. was expected to apply to the Regional District of East Kootenay, or RDEK, to rezone the Jumbo area for the development. That would have involved public hearings. (There has never been a public hearing of any kind in the 20-plus years of the Jumbo saga.)

Before the company got around to applying, the RDEK decided it was unwilling or unable to undertake such a large and contentious process. Effectively washing its hands of responsibility for Jumbo, the RDEK asked the province to turn the development into a mountain resort municipality.

The RDEK board did this following an in camera meeting with then minister of Community Services and Rural Development, Bill Bennett, a long-time enthusiastic booster of Jumbo both in public and behind the scenes. Bennett is now the minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, the ministry responsible for the Jumbo agreement and the formation of the resort municipality.

The board revisited the issue and voted on it again in 2012, with the same result.

The RDEK is governed by a 15-member board of representatives of the communities of Radium Hot Springs, Invermere, Elkford, Sparwood, Fernie, Kimberley, Cranbrook, Windermere, Canal Flats and six rural areas in the vicinity.

Supporters of the Jumbo project argue that this was the democratic process at work: residents of the East Kootenay duly elected the RDEK board which in turn democratically voted in favour of the mountain resort municipality. It's an argument that opponents of the project tend not to talk about.

Instead, they point to thousands of emails, letters, and petitions received by the provincial government during the environmental review in 2004 and the years following, more than 90 per cent of them opposing Jumbo. A number of informal polls have found similar results.

A boisterous first meeting

Jumbo's new municipal council, with Deck as mayor and appointed councillors Nancy Hugunin and Steve Ostrander, held its first meeting on Feb. 19 in the council chambers in Radium Hot Springs.

The new municipality has signed a memorandum of understanding with Radium to use some of its facilities and administrative staff for the time being. Their opening business was to get some founding documents and statutory officers in place.

The provincial government gave the new municipality a grant of $200,000, plus $60,000 to pay an interim administrator. "My expectation is that this [money] will last a couple of years," says Deck. "We are not building a city hall, not hiring full time people."

Once that money is exhausted, says Deck, the only revenue will be property taxes levied on the owners of the Jumbo Glacier Resort.

Deck says once the municipality has typical municipal services like water, sewer, and roads in place, it will contract that work out, rather than purchase equipment and hire staff.

The job of the council is to make sure the Master Development Agreement between the province and Jumbo Glacier Resorts Ltd. is put in place properly, Deck says. That agreement is a compendium of environmental, engineering and construction standards that the developer must meet while building and operating the new town.

Deck says his council will collaborate with the province in some areas where municipal and provincial jurisdiction always overlaps, like water quality, sewage effluent, and building codes.

But where most municipalities develop according to an official community plan, Jumbo is required to follow the terms of the Master Development Agreement, which it cannot change or override.

"We are in early days on this," says Deck. "As we try to take that text and work with a land use planner to try to fit it into a community plan, we will find out where the challenges are."

Protestors outside the building provided a boisterous backdrop to the new municipality's first meeting.

"Most of the banging on the walls were folks who seemed to come from the West Kootenay," says Deck, reflecting the animosity of many Jumbo supporters toward West Kootenay Jumbo opponents whom they look upon as outsiders.

"The opponents locally here are an older demographic and we are neighbours. We've known each other for a long time. It was one of the long time older [local] opponents of the project who asked to be excused to go outside to quiet down the noise. He said, ‘It was our intention not to disrupt your meeting but to express our opposition to it.'"

Dual appointments questioned

Deck's recent appointment by the province as chair of the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) has caused consternation among some of Jumbo's opponents, who think this spells apparent CBT support for Jumbo. (Deck had already served as CBT vice-chair for several years, including the time he was mayor of Radium.)

The trust is a regional organization set up in 1995 to receive and manage compensation for the downstream benefits realized outside the Columbia River basin resulting from the damming of the Columbia River in both Canada and the U.S. Among other tasks, it gives grants to organizations in the region for a variety of projects.

Norm MacDonald, the NDP MLA for the riding of Columbia River–Revelstoke in which the Jumbo Valley sits, thinks the appointment of Deck goes against the purpose and spirit of the CBT.

"I think you can't separate the two activities in the sense that the chair of the CBT, you would think, would be someone who would understand that local decision-making and respecting people in the Kootenays is what the CBT is all about. To participate as the mayor of Jumbo -- something that so clearly goes against Kootenay values and the wishes of community members including the Ktunaxa -- it doesn't make sense."

Deck responds that CBT protocol requires that no director may use the position to promote the interests of his or her community above those of the region as a whole, and he intends to abide by that.

Looking to summer

Jumbo Glacier Resort is starting up with a cat ski operation on the Farnham Glacier above the Jumbo Valley between July and November this year.

The company's senior vice president Grant Costello told The Tyee that ski teams will train there on weekdays, and on weekends the runs will be available to the public by reservation.

This operation will be based in Radium and there will be no buildings or other structures built in the Jumbo Valley.

In the meantime, a provincial election looms. MLA Macdonald says that in the event of an NDP win, the government would repeal the legislation that allowed the formation of the resort municipality.

But the new B.C. government would still be a party to the development agreement with Jumbo Glacier Resorts Ltd. Getting out of it could be complex and expensive.

"We'd get legal advice on that," says Macdonald. "Our goal would be to terminate the agreement in a way that is fair."  [Tyee]

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