The provincial government of British Columbia, Canada approved the development of a new ski resort in the Jumbo Glacier Valley of the Purcell Mountains on March 20. The proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort development includes plans for 23 lifts and a gondola, offering access to 5,627 vertical feet of skiing and snowboarding terrain in the winter and 2,300 vertical feet of terrain in the summer and shoulder seasons, as well as two hotels, 1,360 residential units with 6,250 beds, and a 22-mile road that will connect to the nearest town of Invermere.
Developers say the project will create jobs and bring in over a billion dollars in investments. But to resort opponents, who have been fighting the resort proposal for 21 years, the threat to local grizzly bear populations, desecration of indigenous Ktunaxa Nation land, and a planning scheme they contend is designed to bypass the input and wishes of neighboring communities, make the project a losing proposition.
"We've believed in the merits of this project since day one, and that ultimately due process would prevail," says Tommaso Oberti, Vice President of Pheidias Project Management Corp, the head planning group for the Jumbo Glacier Resort project. "The project passed every step of the approval process and once the environmental assessment certificate was issued in 2004 and the Master Plan was approved in 2007, we expected the process to conclude."
Organizations in the area are continuing their opposition against the development, despite the government ruling. The environmental group Wildsight is running a "Keep Jumbo Wild" campaign, enlisting high-profile athletes, including Olympic Gold Medal Nordic skier Rebecca Scott and NHL legend Scott Scott Niedermayer, to speak out against the project.
At the center of Wildsight's opposition is the threat they see the new resort posing to grizzly bear habitat. Supporting their concerns is a recent study by Grizzly bear conservation expert Michael Proctor, advising the government against the development on the grounds that current development has already contributed to a decline in numbers of local grizzly bear populations.
"We know from Dr. Proctor's research that the Jumbo Valley lies in the heart of very important grizzly bear habitat," says Robyn Duncan, Wildsight Program Manager. "Any development the size of the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort would fragment the landscape and inhibit the ability of wildlife, like grizzly bears and wolverines, to move. Maintaining this movement is critical to the longevity of the grizzly bear population of the Purcell, Selkirk and Cabinet Mountains."
The Ktunaxa First Nation has opposed the project on environmental and spiritual grounds. The Ktunaxa have occupied the territory surrounding the proposed resort development for over 10,000 years, and believe the Purcell Mountains are the home of the grizzly bear spirit. There is dissention in the ranks, however, as a 300-member band of Shuswaps -- one of the seven bands that make up the Ktunaxa First Nation -- living on a reserve near Invermere has come out in support the project. In the Shuswap assessment, all environmental concerns have been addressed, and they are on board with the economic benefits of moving forward with the development.
Meanwhile, the Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA) is looking on with mixed feelings. B.C. already has 13 resorts with on-mountain accommodations, and have voiced concerns in a recent interviewthat, with many resorts in the area already being under-visited, another player on the market could produce "excess capacity."
Oberti is confident about the potential draw their high-alpine offerings will have, estimating 2,000- 3,000 daily visitors after full build out. He also points out that "the B.C. environmental assessment office issued over a hundred recommendations for the environmental management of the resort," including a comprehensive grizzly bear management program, "which will be followed and monitored closely."
What happens next? Glacier Resorts Ltd.told the Times Colony that they hope to open the resort in less than two years. First, the provincial government will have to re-zone the area as a "mountain resort municipality," which would allow construction permits to be issued. Oberti expects this next step to happen shortly.
According to Duncan, this form of re-zoning would be a first in B.C. history, allowing the government to "hand-pick" delegates to represent a residential area that has no actual population or any infrastructure, essentially cutting out the perspectives of nearby communities and interests.
Despite the momentum that the approval from the Provincial government has given the resort development, Wildsight and its supporters remain opposed to the project.
"The people of the Kootenays will not let this development proceed," says Duncan. "The passion and dedication to protect the Jumbo Valley has been running for a long time and is only getting stronger with time. Any potential investor needs to be fully aware of the level of opposition that exists, the dedication of this opposition and the full spectrum of arguments against the proposed development."