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Jumbo Ski Resort Developer Revising Proposal to Skirt Environmental Assessment After Certificate Pulled

The development group that has spent more than 24 years trying to build a controversial ski resort in the East Kootenay’s Purcell Mountains is not giving up without a fight.

Glacier Resorts Ltd. plans to ask for a judicial review of Environment Minister Mary Polak’s decision to pull the project’s Environmental Assessment Certificate. The group is also looking at building a smaller resort that would not have to go through a new environmental assessment process.

A July 20 letter to the chief administrative officer of Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality from Oberto Oberti of Pheidias Project Management Corp., the group that manages the project, says Glacier’s lawyers will submit a request for a judicial review of the minister’s “surprising decision” as soon as the case is prepared.

“Glacier cannot allow that the project be dismissed after having substantially done everything that it was asked to do and was permitted to do up to October 12, 2014, and it believes that a judicial review will show clearly that the Minister did not make a correct decision in declaring that the project was not substantially started,” says the letter.

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In the meantime, the company will work on minor amendments to the Master Plan and the Master Development Agreement to reduce the size of the project to below the threshold of Environmental Assessment regulations, Oberti wrote.

The smaller project could move forward under the provincial All Seasons Resort Policy, he suggested.

“The ASRP does not have the deadline created in the revised Environmental Assessment Act, a deadline that has become the latest issue in this project and that is not related to the sustainability or value of the project,” he wrote.

Plans for the billion-dollar, 6,300-bed Jumbo Glacier Resort ground to a halt last month when Polak withdrew the Environmental Assessment Certificate after concluding that the project had not substantially started in the 10 years since the certificate was granted.

Despite strong opposition from local politicians, environmental groups and residents, the province granted the EA certificate in 2004 and it was renewed in 2009, but construction progress was almost non-existent before the October deadline, which marked the expiry of the certificate.

At that time only two buildings were under construction and, in April, the company was handed a provincial stop work order as the footings were in avalanche paths.

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Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality, which has no residents and no buildings, was created by the province for the sole purpose of facilitating development of the resort and the letter from Oberti says he believes Mayor Greg Deck and the two-member council will “easily recognize that the work done in the five available weeks was more than substantial.”

The company has blamed protests, limited access to the area because of avalanche debris and bridge problems and bad weather for not making more progress.

However, Oberti says in the letter that, if the project had been allowed to continue, ski runs that are currently available only to heli-skiers, would be open to skiers in the near future.

“This would have created the certainty that this project so badly needs,” he said.

Robyn Duncan, executive director of Wildsight, one of the groups adamantly opposed to the resort, said the decision to ask for a judicial review is surprising as the minister’s decision was solid.

However, no request has yet been filed and, in addition, there are two court cases still under consideration, she noted.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has reserved her decision on an application by the West Kootenay EcoSociety to dissolve the municipality and the B.C. Court of Appeal is considering an appeal by the Ktunaxa First Nation of a judicial review that determined the B.C. government acted appropriately when it approved a Master Development Plan for Jumbo in 2012.

Duncan said no plans for a smaller development have yet been seen and opponents are researching what process could be used that would allow Glacier Resorts to forge ahead.

“There are lots of unanswered questions on how they would go about amending the documents,” she said.

“We are doing a lot of research into the mechanisms and hoops they would have to jump through.”

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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