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RDCK wants concerns addressed before supporting Zincton

The regional district wants the province to consider a number of issues
Zincton Mountain Resort would be built along the slopes of Whitewater Mountain near New Denver. The road shown south of the tenure is Highway 31A between New Denver and Kaslo. Photo: Brent Harley and Associates

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

Regional politicians say they can’t support the proposed Zincton all-seasons resort without major issues being addressed.

Regional District of Central Kootenay directors debated earlier this month what feedback to give the provincial government on the proposed resort, which would be located about eight kilometres east of New Denver.

The public comment period for the project was extended to mid-December for the municipality to respond.

In a draft response written on behalf of the board by RDCK planner Dana Hawkins, the district tells the Mountain Resorts Branch it has concerns about the project’s effect on an area already heavily impacted by humans.

“Although this proposal holds potential to bring positive impacts to the region, the RDCK has particular concern with any decision being made by the province with respect to land use in this area without first understanding the cumulative effect of the anthropogenic impacts on this land,” the planner wrote. “We encourage the province to undertake a Cumulative Effects Study to better understand those impacts prior to, or as a part of, the assessment of any application for use in this area.”

“At this time, the RDCK cannot support the proposal until remaining concerns are addressed,” it says.

Areas needing study

The RDCK’s feedback says directors want to see a close evaluation of issues like First Nations engagement and the socio-economic and environmental impacts of the proposal. They also expressed concern about the potential of Zincton becoming its own municipality.

The report says the proposed tenure has the potential to further intensify use in the area. The RDCK wants the assessments to identify the current public and private uses of the land, the environmental capacity of the lands, and the limitations and long-term impacts of future intensification on the area.

“This assessment should consider the impacts across the whole Highway 31A corridor, and include consideration of the existing tenures, the proposed tenure, and the relationship of these to public uses and the environment,” the report suggests.

The report says more study has to be done on the economic impacts, noting that the business plan indicates the resort village will provide guests with accommodation, and places to shop and eat.

“As such, the development is likely to be insular in nature, operating independently from all other settlements,” it says. “In order to provide more widespread benefit, it is queried whether provisions could be put in place to sell local produce and goods? In addition, could trips to the local communities be promoted and encouraged?”

Staff will be housed on-site, which is good for reducing some housing pressure but can also reduce the need to hire locals, the report says.

“An option for housing staff in purpose-built accommodation in one of the nearby municipalities should also be explored, as on-site accommodation could further encourage the insular nature of the resort,” the author writes. “With employees living on-site, the likelihood and need to employ locally is reduced. Would there be mechanisms in place to prioritize hiring local employees? What measures would be put in place to encourage and facilitate local employment?”

The RDCK report doesn’t completely pan the project however, noting the proponent’s focus on human-powered recreation, and “adherence to sustainability principles in the development and operation of the project.”

Other concerns

Among other bureaucratic considerations, the RDCK notes the size and intensity of the development is beyond the scope of the current local Official Community Plan, and an amendment to that plan should be required.

“This would provide for further public engagement on the desirableness of the proposal and consideration of the impacts, and would ensure that all individuals and points of view are respected in the development process,” the report says.

A proper study on how emergency services would access the site should be done, and a Watercourse Development Permit would also have to be issued, the report says.

“Due to these unknowns, RDCK requests further study of the socio-economic impacts of the proposed development. We respectfully request the province consider providing funding to the RDCK to hire our own consultant for the further evaluation of socio-economic impacts,” the report says.

While the RDCK was reluctant to comment on the environmental impacts in the area by the project, they say the province should require an independent, third-party review done of the proponent’s own environmental consultants.

First Nation calls for pause

The RDCK’s rural directors almost took a tougher stance against the project at a committee meeting the day before the monthly board meeting.

The Rural Affairs Committee on Dec. 8 heard that the Yaqan Nukiy of the Ktunaxa Nation (Lower Kootenay Band) had contacted the RDCK, requesting them to ask the province to hold the project in abeyance – to put the project on temporary hold.

The First Nation from the south end of Kootenay Lake considers the area part of its unceded territory and wants more information before a decision is made.

“They have asked us to join them in recommending an abeyance on this application…,” said planning manager Sangita Sudan. “At this time they’re not going to support this application, and they wish to undertake more studies to understand the concerns they have of the use in this area before any other decisions are made in approving Zincton to go further down the road of approvals.”

That had Area D Director Aimee Watson calling for the regional district to follow the First Nation’s lead on the matter.

“We also know they as well are looking for further information and are not comfortable…,” said Watson. “We’re acknowledging First Nations are requesting that this has a better review and the whole system needs to change, so we’re respecting that. And as an elected official I’ve opposed all tourism applications as a whole based on reconciliation, and the fact we have to change the way we manage land.”

Watson’s motion called for the province to put the project in abeyance “until all studies are completed that outline the cumulative effects, and carrying capacity of the land is determined.”

However, an official with the Mountain Resorts Branch (MRB) at the meeting told the committee that it would be “counterproductive” for the RDCK to support a call for abeyance.

Zoran Boskovic of MRB said they were aware of the Ktunaxa’s desire to participate, but said consultation was ongoing with First Nations that have legal status in the area. He said they haven’t heard anything specific about the project from any other First Nation they’ve reached out to, including the Colville Confederacy, and First Nations in the Okanagan and Shuswap.

“We will continue to engage and reach out to First Nations,” he told directors. “There’s no timeline for how long this will take to receive that feedback as well … from the Mountain Branch’s perspective, it would be counterproductive to put this process in abeyance. This process is robust enough to continue to solicit the input, evaluate the information, look to what additional information we may need, and any decision to put it in abeyance will unnecessarily fetter the decision from the statutory decision-makers.”

The directors decided to take the motion to the full board.

However, at the next day’s board meeting, Watson backed off on the proposal after discussing the issue with staff.

“Further communications have indicated that [the call for an abeyance] be direct from a First Nations to the MRB process itself,” she said. “So they are not recommending we make that note now.”

The RDCK’s feedback on the proposal will now go to the Mountain Resorts Branch for consideration, joining the hundreds of responses the province has received from groups and individuals.

If the province approves, the proponent will be allowed to move to the next phase of the project, developing a Master Plan detailing building and development plans.

That decision is expected by the spring.

The Zincton project seeks to establish an all-season, backcountry-oriented mountain destination catering to local, regional, and international guests. It is requesting 5,500 hectares of Crown land tenure in the backcountry north of Highway 31A between New Denver and Kaslo.

The project is being spearheaded by David Harley, a long-time resident of New Denver.