A local environmental group is outraged to see a mountain resort municipality being formed in the Jumbo Valley.
West Kootenay EcoSociety executive director David Reid calls the move bad for democracy, never mind the devastating environmental impact.
“It’s nonsense to call something a municipality when there are literally no human inhabitants,” Reid said in a release sent shortly after the announcement Tueday in Revelstoke.
Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Bill Bennett announced a mayor and two councillors have been appointed to lead the municipality of Jumbo Glacier Resort.
The newly appointed mayor is Greg Deck, who was the mayor of Radium Hot Springs for 18 years, from the time it incorporated until he retired from office in 2008. The councillors are Nancy Hugunin and Steve Ostrander. Hugunin is a well-known entrepreneur, mother and grandmother, who serves as the Kootenay regional chair for the BC Ski Association. Ostrander, a retired professional forester, is currently a director for the Columbia Valley Food Bank, the Lake Windermere District Lions Club and the Columbia Headwaters Community Forest Initiative.
Retiring Golden town manager Phil Taylor will be the interim corporate offer and spend the next few months creating an original set of bylaws for the new community and ensuring that the municipality is operational by its official incorporation date of February 19, 2013.
The provincial appointees will have the same privileges and responsibilities as elected officials. The Union of British Columbia Municipalities passed a resolution in September opposing the creation of mountain resort municipalities.
Nelson-Creston NDP MLA Michelle Mungall said many Kootenay residents are also opposed to having an unelected council leading a municipality.
“Every public opinion survey and public consultation process has shown strong opposition to this proposal, and Minister Bennett seems to be one of the few Kootenay residents in favour,” Mungall said in a press release. “People in the Kootenays have long been in favour of sustainable resource development, and the fact that they are so strongly against this project should speak volumes.”
Reid adds, “This is a terrible precedent that allows the province to make local land use decisions through their appointed council. These appointees, whatever their merits may be, aren’t accountable to local citizens.”
Bennett, in an interview with Invermere Valley Echo, stressed that new council will not be working for either the developer or the Province. He also pointed out that over a dozen municipalities around the province were created when mines or dams were being built to provide a form of governance for the workers living there.
“And if [Jumbo Glacier Resort] goes ahead,” he said, “it will be a game changer for tourism in British Columbia… we will have something in British Columbia that does not exist anywhere else in North America.”
The $450-million high elevation glacier based ski resort is planned in three phases and will ultimately include 5,500 bed-units in a 104-hectare resort base area. It is projected to provide approximately 3,750 people years of construction employment and create 750 to 800 permanent full-time jobs.
When asked if mountain resort municipality status would permit Jumbo Glacier Resort to apply for provincial infrastructure funding for a new access road, Bennett replied that the B.C. government would not entertain an application from council for infrastructure support until there had been a democratic election with people residing in the resort municipality.
“The dealings that the proponent will have with the Province over the access road and over infrastructure and all those kinds of things will be exactly the same as any proponent in the same circumstances,” he said. “So in other words, the proponent here is not going to get any special deal on the access road. Whatever is the normal arrangement between a ski resort developer and the Province is the arrangement that we’ll have here.”
With respect to the widespread opposition the proposed resort has met from local First Nations, environmentalists and Kootenay residents as well as further afield, Bennett said the government would work through any sort of protests, including road blockages, should they happen to come up.
“Everyone has had their chance to say what they think; the proponent has done what governments have over the years have asked of them, and now there’s a decision and the proponent now has a right to build the project,” Bennett said.
But according to Reid, the proposal may still have some additional obstacles to overcome before it could move forward. The Ktunaxa First Nation has announced they will go to court to protect the valley as part of the Qat’Muk Declaration.
Reid vowed that residents of the Kootenays would continue to fight. “We’re confident that the determination our community will keep Jumbo Valley wild forever.”
—with files from the Invermere Valley Echo