ROUSING THE RABBLE: Jumbo Glacier Resort is not a done deal

The announcement that the Jumbo Glacier resort proposal has received approval came as a complete surprise to everyone in the province.

The announcement that the Jumbo Glacier resort proposal has received government approval on March 20 came as a complete surprise to everyone in the province, particularly those who live in the East Kootenays and have been watching the project for two decades. Even the proponent was surprised.

The application for the development was first made when Mike Harcourt was premier and Glen Clark was environment minister. Victoria was chosen as the site for the announcement, not Invermere, the community nearest to the Jumbo Glacier.  Bill Bennett, MLA for the area and Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Steve Thomson chose to be about as far away from the epicentre of the action as one can get.

Bennett said that making the announcement in Invermere would have perpetuated the division in East Kootenay communities. Maybe he didn’t want demonstrations from either side.

Thomson signed what is called a master development agreement for the project and his doing so allows the proponent to begin the necessary engineering studies that precede any work on the ground.

Oberto Oberti, president and CEO of proponent Glacier Resorts Ltd. says he would like to open the resort in 2014 but he must first get the area rezoned as a resort municipality.

At a meeting in August 2009, the Regional District of East Kootenay board of directors handed the project to the provincial government for zoning as a resort municipality.

The environmental assessment certificate that took nine years to complete was issued eight years ago. The reviewers had reached the conclusion that the project was in “the broad public interest.” However, those who are opposed have questioned that conclusion. They say it doesn’t make economic sense.

The assessment certificate listed 195 conditions that must be met by the proponent. The government also has responsibility for rebuilding the logging road into the valley.

Jumbo Mountain and Jumbo Glacier are located 55 kilometres west of Invermere, a small community in the Rocky Mountain trench. The resort that is planned will be built in three phases on an old sawmill site. When it is completed it will include 5,500 bed units plus 750 bed units for staff.

Some 2,000 to 3,000 visitors are expected to visit the resort in the high winter season to use its 23 ski lifts.

Why Jumbo? A press release from Jumbo Resorts Limited says “The resort’s location was chosen for its optimal snow conditions, high elevations, large glaciers, and the fact the Jumbo Creek valley has seen significant prior use and it provides the easiest access to 3,000 metre high (10,000 feet) glaciers in North America.”

Nowhere has the proponent expressed concern about the fact that Jumbo Glacier is melting at a rapid rate. What will happen to the resort when the glaciers are gone?

The estimated cost of the project is $450 million. During construction it will provide approximately 3,750 person years of employment. At completion, 750 to 800 people will be employed full time.

Jumbo resort supporters are the people who look to the project as a necessary stimulus for the economy. It will provide jobs but they will be the kind of low paid jobs one finds in the resort industry: ski lift operators, food service providers, hotel staff, etc.

A fierce opponent of the Jumbo Glacier proposal has been Wildsight, a group that works to maintain biodiversity and healthy human communities in the Columbia and Rocky Mountains ecoregion of B.C. The group has already begun a campaign in opposition to the project.

CBC has reported that a delegation from France would be visiting Jumbo Glacier this spring. The company may well be Compagnie des Alpes, the company that expressed interest in the resort when it was first proposed.

Although it has cleared a couple hurdles, the Jumbo Glacier project is still far from being a done deal.

Opposition against Thomson’s decision is building.

– Roy Ronaghan is a columnist for the Grand Forks Gazette