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Controversial Jumbo Ski Resort rises from the dead and heads to court

After almost three decades of planning, the fate of a 6000-bed luxury ski resort in B.C.’s Purcell Mountains hangs in the court’s balance once again

Plans for a controversial ski resort in the East Kootenay’s Purcell Mountains are ready to be revived, say proponents, who are pinning their hopes on a B.C. Supreme Court case next week, which challenges the 2015 decision by the provincial government to yank the project’s environmental certificate.

“Yes, we are still intent on building the project,” Tommaso Oberti of Pheidias Project Management told The Narwhal.

Pheidias manages the project for Glacier Resorts Ltd., a group of investors that has spent 27 years trying to build the massive Jumbo Glacier Resort on land that is considered sacred by the Ktunaxa First Nation.

“If we are successful it would enable it to be built to the approved 6,000 beds and, if not, we can only build 2,000 beds, so, from an investor perspective it makes a difference — hence the petition,” said Oberti, who is also vice-president of Glacier Resorts.

In addition to objections from the Ktunaxa First Nation, who, last year, lost a protracted court battle claiming the development violated the Nation’s right to freedom of religion, the development has been opposed by local politicians, environmental groups and many area residents.

The environmental certificate was withdrawn by then environment minister Mary Polak who concluded the project had not substantially started, despite the original certificate being issued in 2004 and renewed in 2009.

At the time of Polak’s decision only two buildings were under construction and had not proceeded beyond concrete pads. Also, the previous spring, the company had been handed a provincial stop-work order because footings were in avalanche runoff paths.

Glacier Resorts petition to the court for a judicial review claims that the limited construction was “due to circumstances beyond Glacier Resorts’ control, and at least partly within the control of the Province.”

There were delays in the province granting the Master Development Agreement and, as the construction season in the Jumbo Glacier region is only about eight weeks long, it was impossible to do additional work, according to the petition.

Giving a twist to the case, the NDP government and current Environment Minister George Heyman had nothing to do with the decision, which was made by Polak and the previous Liberal government, but will be defending it in court.

The petition claims there was bad judgement by Polak and, adding an additional wrinkle, Glacier Resorts previously blamed a friendship between Polak and Ktunaxa Nation chair Kathryn Teneese for the decision.

Environment Ministry spokesman David Karn said in an emailed response that “as this matter is before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment or speculate on the outcome.”

Wildsight and the Jumbo Creek Conservation Society have been granted intervenor status in the case and Robyn Duncan, Wildsight executive director, said it is clear that, even though Glacier Resorts had a decade to start construction, no substantial start had been made on the resort.

“All they managed to build were a couple of concrete pads, poured at the last minute as winter was closing in,” she said.

Meanwhile, Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality, which has no residents, no infrastructure and no tax base — and which has, so far, outlasted calls from critics for the municipality’s dissolution — presented its annual report last week.

The financial documents show that 97.7 per cent of the municipality’s revenues come from provincial government transfers, meaning that since incorporation in 2013, provincial transfers have amounted to $855,299. The financial plan predicts a surplus of $124,160 for 2018.

Mayor Greg Deck receives $3,750 a year and councillors Steve Ostrander and Nancy Hugunin $2,500 a year each.

The 2018 “administrative demands on the municipality” are likely to be the same as the previous year, meaning everything is in a holding pattern, until the B.C. Supreme Court makes a decision.

However, in 2019, “once the Master Plan is confirmed, either in the original or revised format, it is expected that the municipality will move forward with development of the Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw for the resort base,” says the annual report.

The court, which is unlikely to make an immediate ruling, could decide to overturn the province’s decision on the environmental certificate or could deny the Glacier Resorts petition, but, even then, it might not be the end of the saga.

If the court denies the petition, “then it’s always possible to appeal,” Oberti said.

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