Fate of Controversial Billion-Dollar Glacier Ski Resort Hangs on June Report from B.C. Ministry of Environment

A decision on whether pouring two building foundations and clearing trees constitutes a “substantial start” for the Jumbo Glacier Resort project will be made by the Environmental Assessment Office in June and the report will include information on buildings located within avalanche zones.

That assessment will then go to Environment Minister Mary Polak for the final verdict on whether the controversial billion-dollar resort should go ahead.

“Our current plan is to have a decision on whether the project has been substantially started by early to mid-June,” said an Environment Ministry spokesman.

“Before finalizing the report we will be providing Glacier Resort Ltd., Ktunaxa Nation Council and the Shuswap Indian Band an opportunity to review a confidential draft of the report.”

That could include comments on the effect of an Environmental Assessment Office order to stop work on the two buildings because of avalanche threats, he said.

The stop work order was issued after a report found the service building was in a high-risk avalanche red zone and the day lodge — which was originally planned for another site — was in the moderate-risk blue zone.

Plans for the 6,300 bed resort on Crown land west of Invermere have been in the works for 24 years.

The project was granted an Environmental Assessment Certificate in 2004, which was renewed in 2009, but little work was done on the site until a flurry of activity shortly before last fall’s deadline. For the certificate to become permanent, Glacier Resorts must prove that construction was well underway before the deadline.

Tommaso Oberti, vice-president of the project’s management company, said the location of the day lodge and the service building had to be changed at the last minute because of deadline pressures and the new sites were chosen based on available avalanche mapping.

The project team believed “without a doubt that, following the opening of the ski area, the avalanches would have been, in the worst case, smaller, not larger, because of planned and effective mitigation measures such as bombing,” Oberti said in an email.

The service building will not be used in winter, to respect the determination of a 30-year risk occurrence, but the day lodge is safe and there are numerous examples of how risks are managed at other resorts, Oberti insisted.

“It is safe and it must be permissible to build a day lodge in a blue zone with application of avalanche risk mitigation measures that reduce the risk to people and structures to an acceptable low risk level,” he said.

The main resort and overnight tourist accommodation are in a part of the valley without avalanche risks, Oberti said.

Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft, who opposes the project, said the stop work order means little as, after the deadline, the company was not permitted to continue building until there is a decision on whether to hand them an Environmental Assessment certificate.

The order makes it appear as if the province is strictly enforcing its rules, but it is more like a public relations move, said Taft, who added that few people in Invermere are confident that the provincial government will make the right decision.

“I don’t have much faith in the government…I look at things quite cynically,” he said.

Image Credit: Jumbo Glacier Resort via Flickr

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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