B.C.’s Jumbo Municipality, Created to Support Failed Ski Resort, Hangs in Balance as Proponents Fight to Build Luxury Project

There are no residents or buildings in the municipality of Jumbo, B.C. The only development proposal planned for the voterless town — the Jumbo Glacier Ski Resort — has been sent back to the drawing board by the province and a Supreme Court judge is considering an application to dissolve the municipality.

But, for now, activity in the Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality will continue as usual, says Mayor Greg Deck.

The Kootenays municipality of Jumbo was created by the provincial government (some say undemocratically) in 2012 for the sole purpose of dealing with the controversial Jumbo Glacier Resort project, but in July the Environment Ministry allowed its environmental certificate to expire after ruling the project had not been substantially started in time to meet its permit deadline.

Read Democracy Interrupted: How Jumbo Glacier Resort Became a Municipality with No Residents

That means plans for a massive all-season, wilderness ski resort in the heart of the Jumbo Valley must either be scrapped or proponents must start from scratch and ask the province for a new environmental assessment.

“We want to finish the Official Community Plan by the end of the year. We don’t want it to be a problem because it was left undone. It’s a good insurance policy,” Deck told DeSmog Canada.

“We are doing business as usual with an eye on how the proponents will work out the differences with the province,” said Deck, former mayor of Radium Hot Springs and chair of the Columbia Basin Trust.

The project has a long, controversial history. In 1991, Oberto Oberti of Pheidias Project Management Corp. and Glacier Resorts first envisioned a massive all-season ski resort in the wilderness, about 55 kilometres west of Invermere, but the project was bitterly opposed by environmental groups, the Ktunaxa First Nation and many local residents.

Despite the opposition, the province granted an Environmental Assessment Certificate in 2004 and it was renewed in 2009. But progress on constructing the 6,300 bed resort before the October 2014 deadline was almost non-existent and Environment Minister Mary Polak pulled the certificate.

A spokeswoman for the Community, Sport and Cultural Development Ministry said the proponent’s choices now include seeking a judicial review of Polak’s decision or resubmitting the proposal.

“Regardless of the proponent’s decision the municipality will remain intact until a decision is made by government about its future,” she said.

Resort spokesman Tommaso Oberti could not be contacted by DeSmog Canada, but, after Polak’s decision, he told media outlets that directors are reviewing the decision and plan to speak to ministry officials about ways to move forward.

A hint of the next step came in a February 2014 letter from Oberto Oberti to Deck which said “If everything else failed, (which I really think is an impossible case), Glacier would simply re-apply for the [environmental assessment] certificate.”

Deck does not see any problem with the municipality continuing to do business.

“I wouldn’t rule out a development proposal yet…and I am optimistic the municipality will survive,” he said.

However, Jumbo council has decided to defer accepting the annual Small Community Grant of $200,000.

“We thought it prudent to say ‘hang on to it for now,’” Deck said.

“There is a notion that we would be profligate just because we are in favour of destination resorts, but we are very frugal with the funding we have and our previous funding allows us to continue for the rest of the year.”

The municipality initially received a $260,000 provincial grant and, since 2012, has received the grant of $200,000 a year, most of which has been spent on building a bridge into the municipality and legal fees. About $50,000 in federal gas tax money has also flowed to Jumbo.

Another threat to the municipality’s existence is an application to the B.C. Supreme Court by the West Kootenay EcoSociety to dissolve the municipality.

Lawyers for the EcoSociety argued in court last week that the province exceeded its discretionary powers by creating a municipality with no voters. Justice Grace Choi has reserved her decision.

EcoSociety executive director David Reid said he is not expecting a fast decision, as it is a complicated case that challenges the discretion of the cabinet and the use of public resources to support corporate interests.

Even though the environmental assessment certificate for the resort has been yanked, the Jumbo Valley remains at risk for as long as the municipality exists, Reid said.

“Does it sit there forever? Is there no deadline?” he asked.

Image Credit: Lynne Martel via Pique Magazine

Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist based in Victoria, British Columbia. Lavoie covered environment and First Nations stories for the…

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