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A B.C. entrepreneur’s plan to build a ski resort in the Selkirk Mountains has locals and conservation organizations concerned about impacts on wildlife and the community it could overwhelm.
Zincton Mountain Village would cover 4,500 hectares of private and Crown land in the Goat Range of the Selkirk Mountains in the Central Kootenays, about 16 kilometres east of New Denver, B.C. It is envisioned as a year-round mountain resort for skiers and mountain bikers, and its proponents are eyeing a grand opening in 2021.
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Harley describes the project as eco-friendly, while his opposition says it’s anything but. Here’s what you need to know about the proposed Zincton Mountain Village.
The preliminary description of the Zincton resort, from a press release published in 2019, describes “a radical departure from the status quo” with a focus on human-powered backcountry experiences. In the summer, the resort would be used for mountain biking and in the winter, Zincton would offer back-country skiing, which the release says is the winter sport with the “lowest impact on wilderness terrain and wildlife” possible.
The vast majority of those skiers, 85 per cent, will hike and climb rather than using lifts, and there will be no helicopter use for back-country access. All of the resort’s electricity will be generated by hydro and solar power — a “carbon zero” ski resort with “the lowest-skier-density ski area in North America,” according to the project description.
The project’s critics include the Valhalla Wilderness Society, the West Kootenay EcoSociety and Wildsight — an environmental group that launched the Jumbo Wild campaign to oppose the development of the year-round ski resort, Jumbo Glacier Resort, in the Purcell Mountains. (After three decades of planning and years of fits and starts, earlier this year, Jumbo resort officially folded with its land turned over to Ktunaxa Nation to develop an Indigenous Protected Area, following a payout of an undisclosed amount to the company, paid in part by the federal government.)
Critics argue Zincton Mountain Village would transform as much as 55 square kilometres of undeveloped mountain range, fracturing and destroying core habitat of grizzly bears, wolverines and mountain goats — regardless of the owners’ intentions to operate an eco-friendly operation. Wolverines and grizzly bears are currently listed as species of special concern in Canada. Goat Range Provincial Park, adjacent to the land that would be developed for Zincton, is home to more than 40 threatened species, whose existence is dependent on the local ecosystem.
“The Central Selkirk Mountains are a crucial connectivity link and core habitat” for these species, according to Wildsight. “Development within the corridor, including intensive all-season usage, will displace grizzlies from important habitat and threaten connectivity” in an area that is already the most heavily licensed for business-use on Crown land in all of B.C. — for outdoor sports and adventure tourism in particular. This use, so far, has been predominantly by small operators, and critics are concerned a development the size of Zincton would overwhelm the dwindling area of land that remains undisturbed.
Wayne McCrory, a wildlife biologist from New Denver, responded to the Zincton proposal with a 21-page rebuttal sent to the provincial government. He said, “the Zincton proposal, if approved, will have significant, irreversible and adverse impacts” on local wildlife. He predicted the resort would cause a significant decline in the population of local grizzly bears, wolverines and mountain goats.
According to Harley, the land eyed for the project, “is an unremediated mining district that has been prospected, drilled, blasted, tunnelled, mined, logged and burned for 120 years.” But Zincton’s own proposals and description refer to the mountain as “pristine,” a term Harley himself has used in interviews before, as a selling point for the integrity of the back-country skiing experience Zincton would offer.
“You don’t usually see grizzly bears or mountain goats in ‘industrial wastelands,’ ” Wildsight’s conservation specialist, Eddie Petryshen, told The Narwhal in an email. “We are mainly talking about mining with hand tools and at a scale that is nothing [like] what we experience today … these impacts are quite localized and likely have little effect on wildlife and overall landscape function.”
In a series of emails with The Narwhal, Harley dismissed environmental concerns. He said impacted grizzly habitats are low quality and categorized the criticism from certain environmental groups as a “copy and paste” campaign motivated by a desire to oppose everything rather than contribute constructively.
Harley sees the Zincton Mountain Village as part of a necessary turn toward eco-tourism to “grow and replace economic decline.” He added it would provide both recreational opportunities and jobs for the local population.
Hal Wright, who owns the Silversmith Power and Light plant, which Zincton expects to rely on for hydropower, said the project would be net-positive for the local area. Silversmith, Wright told The Narwhal, produces clean energy that it effectively can’t sell in B.C. through BC Hydro’s private producer agreements. He said Zincton would help sustain the small operation and rejuvenate the local community.
“[Development] is happening whether we like it or not,” Wright added. “The idea that we can keep these areas remote is a pipe dream anyway. The reality is it isn’t going to stay untouched wilderness and we need to get our heads out of the sand and realize that. It’s more about how we do it.”
Wright compared the Zincton proposal to organic food or carbon-neutral vehicles: an alternative mountain tourism model that may not be environmentally perfect, but is a realistic improvement on “the hideously destructive ways [in which] we currently recreate.”
“We have an opportunity here to do something better,” Wright said. “Maybe the next [developers] won’t care so much.”
Harley recently described Zincton as being split between full-time residents of the eco-village on site and longer-term guests, with between 200 and 300 visitors driving up each day. The expression of interest he submitted to the provincial government doesn’t mention full-time residents, but says the resort will be used primarily by guests staying between four and 10 days total. Harley told The Narwhal the resort would be “tiny,” with a maximum of 1,700 pillows compared to Whistler’s 63,000.
That number, however, still constitutes “intensive recreational use,” Wildsight’s Petryshen said. “Carbon neutral development and green planning is something we desperately need in this region. But this is urban sprawl in the middle of the Selkirk Mountains.” Considering the potential impacts on wildlife and the portion of wild lands that it will occupy, he posed the question: “Is that green development?”
Others concerned about Zincton include outdoor advocacy groups who fear the commercialization of B.C.’s back-country mountains will take those areas away from local residents — to the benefit of private companies.
In a letter to a local newspaper, K.L. Kivi, a naturalist and author from New Denver, called Zincton’s “1,500 daily visitors completely out of whack with our 500-inhabitant New Denver village culture and infrastructure. It would swamp us rather than support [us].”
Another local, Noah Marshall, echoed those concerns in a letter to another newspaper, writing, “The resort will overwhelm and displace local residents.” He described Harley’s eco-village model as rural gentrification. “The economic gain of Zincton is concentrated among resort investors … with detrimental effects on local communities.”
But Harley calls himself a “proven disruptor” whose companies are “both sustainable and resilient,” in contrast to competitors like Whistler Blackcomb, which he described as “dinosaurs from a previous era.” And, he added, “I’m not a developer.” It’s something he specifies not as a mark of inexperience but as a badge of pride: he’s never done this before, so he’s not bound by tradition or pre-conceptions.
The B.C. government is currently reviewing Harley’s expression of interest for the Zincton resort and looking into any land use conflicts of interest. If no issues are found and the proposal is deemed feasible, Zincton will be asked to make a more detailed formal proposal for the Mountain Resorts Branch to review. This review will also involve a public consultation period.
Harley hopes to open the resort as early as December 2021.
“There is a real story here,” Harley said, “of a proven disruptor facing down the mob to do one last project for the kids and grandkids. … Jobs for locals, a future for families, saving the hospital.”
“Zincton is the Tesla of the ski village business.”
Sinixt, Shuswap and Simpcw Nations did not respond to The Narwhal’s request for comment on this story, nor did the mayors of New Denver or Kaslo.
Updated at 9:50 a.m. on Nov. 29, 2020, to correct the status of wolverines under Canada’s Species At Risk Act. Wolverines are listed as a species of special concern, not as endangered.
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