By Lloyd Dolha
The Ktunaxa people of the east Kootenay region expressed their deep disappointment at the announcement of the approval of the Jumbo Glacier Resort by the province in late March. The resort is to be built on the Jumbo Mountain Glacier in the Purcell Range west of Invermere, at the site of an old sawmill. “We offered a great deal of evidence to the decision-makers on the cultural value of this area to the Ktunaxa,” said Kathryn Teneese, chair of the Ktunaxa Nation Council. “We made it very clear that any development in this area would cause serious and irreversible harm to the Ktunaxa Nation, to our culture, to grizzly bears, and to the many other wildlife and environmental values [of the region].”
The 104-hectare luxury resort community will feature up to 23 lifts plus a gondola to a teahouse at the 3,000 metre mark on the glacier mountain offering “spectacular world-class views” for tourists. The plan for a “boutique-sized, high quality resort designed in an authentic mountain character in accordance with sustainable development principles… supported by a first Nations heritage theme” includes two hotels and 1,360 residential units to be developed in three phases over a 20-year period. The master development plan forecasts 70,000 winter visits in the first year of operation, 141,000 by the end of phase one at year five, and 500,410 by year 20.
The province approved the Jumbo ski resort after extensive environmental reviews and consultation. “After more than 20 years of comprehensive and exhaustive reviews, it was time to make a decision,” said Steve Thomson, Minister of Forest Lands and Natural Resources. Glacier Resorts Ltd. received environmental approval after the company made 195 commitments to mitigate its environmental impact on the Purcell Range, and the province will pursue the establishment of a large wildlife management area to protect grizzly bear habitat in the region. “This project has been reviewed to death,” said Jim Winter, president and CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce. “It’s good to see BC sending a clear signal that major projects like these will be judged on their own merits.”
Bill Bennett, MLS for Kootenay East said the project has divided the Kootenay communities for over 20 years and congratulated Premier Christie Clark on the tough call. “No matter what side of the debate you’re on, the majority of folks in the East Kootenay will be relieved by the certainty,” said Bennett. The $900 million project could create an estimated 750 direct permanent jobs upon completion and provide 3,750 person years of construction employment. Glacier Resorts Ltd. has requested the resort be designated a municipality like Whistler. Now that the master development agreement has been approved, the Ministry of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development will review that application.
The loss of wilderness habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife on Jumbo Mountain and the valley has been a long-time source of concern for environmental groups and First Nations, as the site carries historic and spiritual significance to the Ktunaxa people. Joe Foy of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee condemned the government approval as a “highly unpopular and destructive development.” Alex Atamanenko, MP for the BC Southern Interior, voiced his dismay and anger at the BC provincial government’s approval of the project. “The Liberal government has seen fit to make this decision in spite of years of fighting against the development of Jumbo by communities and individuals,” said Atamanenko. “Ignoring the voice of the people and paving the way for an unwanted development is short-sighted and irresponsible,” said the NDP member of parliament. “What is this government doing?”
Atamanenko said the resort is being proposed in an area that already has a dozen ski resorts within a 150 kilometre radius, and the proposed access road upgrade will at taxpayer expense. “I think the Liberals will find they will still have a fight on their hands when it comes to making the plans for Jumbo a reality,” added Atamanenko.