UPDATED: Jumbo Glacier Resort approved
The long-debated Jumbo Glacier Resort is another step closer to reality, after the B.C. government announced its approval of a master development agreement for the controversial ski resort today.
Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson and Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett made the announcement together in Victoria, and characterized the decision as a tough but necessary step for the government.
"I made this decision after reviewing all of the relevant, extensive documentation on this file as well as visting the site and meeting with both first nations and the proponent," said Thomson. "I respect that there have been differing views on this project, but after 20 years of this extensive review it was time to make a decision."
Bennett, a longtime supporter of the project and the BC Liberal MLA closest to the Jumbo area, said he hoped the decision would allow communities divided by the issue to heal.
"It's divided our communities and we wanted it over. We wanted a decision from government and I can't thank my friend Steve enough for having the courage to make this decision," he told media.
The master development agreement lays out the terms and conditions under which the resort can be developed and allows proponents Glacier Resorts Ltd. to move forward with phased development of 6,250 beds, up to 23 ski lifts and a 3,000 metre-high gondola.
A wildlife management zone will also be established in the area, which Thomson said should address concerns by the Ktunaxa Nation. The Ktunaxa have opposed the resort's development because of the area's spiritual significance, which is tied to its grizzly population.
Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald, who has opposed the development, called the decision "disrespectful" to those who oppose the project locally.
"It's incredibly disrespectful, to go pretty much as far from Invermere as you can to make this announcement," he said. "The government knows that this is an issue that people in Invermere care about, and they chose to hide away in Victoria and make the announcement there, in front of people that largely will not understand the issue the way people here do."
But Bennett said making the announcement in "neutral" territory was part of the government's plan.
"I think you would have ended up with 1,000 people on either side of the street," had the announcement been made in Invermere, he said. "You would have had the proponents on one side of the street shouting how much they support it and you would have had 1,000 people on the other side of the street shouting about why it shouldn't happen. It would have perpetuated the sort of dynamic that has existed in our communities and we've had enough of that."
From here, GRL will have go through what ministry staff called a "relatively minor permitting process" to have lands in the Jumbo area rezoned. That could be done via the Regional District of East Kootenay, by having the area annexed for management by a nearby municipality, or by dubbing Jumbo a mountain resort municipality.
Glacier Resorts has already put in a request for resort municipality status, which the province is reviewing — though approval or rejection of the plan would be the responsibility of the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.
News of the announcement comes about a month after a delegation of local business owners, politicians and the resort's proponents spent a week promoting the resort in France. A reciprocal trip by French investors is planned for this spring.
However, Thomson told The Echo the trip had no bearing on his decision.
Keep watching invermerevalleyecho.com for more updates as this story breaks.