After a consultation and review process spanning over 20 years, the provincial government has approved the Jumbo Glacier Resort proposal in the East Kootenay.
The resort aims to be North America’s only year-round, glacier-based ski resort and would be located about 57 kilometers west of Invermere in the Purcell Mountains on the site of an old sawmill.
The announcement came Tuesday from Natural Resources Minister Steve Thomson and East Kootenay MLA Bill Bennett in Victoria.
“The decision was obviously not made lightly,” said Tom Thomson, executive director of the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce.
“It comes following the most comprehensive review and consultation process in BC history.”
The phased development plan approved by the government indicates that the completed ski resort would feature up to 23 lifts and a 3,000 metre-high gondola.
“It’s been a long time. Somebody had to make a decision, and they made one,” said Kaslo mayor Greg Lay.
“[It’s economically viable] — that’s the reality of our world. It’s much smaller than what people think and it will create job opportunities for the tourism and service sector,” he said, adding that he would have rather seen the project phased in smaller stages.
“I think that they should start at a certain scale and monitor the impacts and then look at further phases… It’s a beautiful piece of country, but it’s about trying to find a way to share that without all the unacceptable impacts.”
Brennan Clarke, media relations for the Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations, wrote in a news release that the up to $900 million in private capital investment could create an estimated 750 permanent, direct jobs upon completion and provide about 3,750 people years of construction employment.
However, Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall called the resort’s approval “mind boggling.”
“I’m disappointed that the Liberal government has made a clear choice to ignore both the First Nations and the residents who have been opposing this proposal for over 20 years,” she said.
Contrary to Lay, Mungall said that the proposal was not economically viable.
“To the best of my knowledge it doesn’t even have financial backing right now.”
Lay, however, had other concerns with the proposal.
“The thing that really concerns me is that with the dollars invested you would think they could support two scientists to work there for the next 20 years to document and monitor the impact on grizzly bears in the area as well as other animals. I think that should have been built into the approval process,” said Lay, adding that while some people may be opposed to the plan, he’s not sure what impact protests would have.
“I think you would be better off trying to ensure the government has put in place the ability to prevent and identify crises that might emerge,” he said.
Lay says the average person in the Kootenays would look at this as just more economic development.
However, Mungall says she’s sure Kootenay residents who don’t approve will make their voices heard.
“This resort is catering to an elite. It’s owned by people who aren’t from this region and it doesn’t fit in with our local economic ambitions,” she told the Star.
David Reid, executive director of the West Kootenay EcoSociety, said he’s sure people will explore every avenue to try and keep Jumbo wild.
“I think we’ll see the full range, everything from continued participation in the political process to civil disobedience,” said Reid.
“Time and time again it comes up that the majority of people don’t want this to happen because they value wild space, because they value having grizzly bears and elk and caribou in our region.”
Nelson mayor John Dooley said he doesn’t see the resort having a negative impact on the area, should it go ahead.
“We’ve become known in the Kootenays in general as one of the leading destinations in the world for backcountry skiing and we’re constantly marketing that whole outdoor recreation piece… This adds one more addition to the inventory that can be marketed around the world and give people a lot of options to visit the Kootenays in general,” said Dooley.
“It can’t be a bad thing from a marketing perspective.”
Dooley said while some might think the addition of another ski resort in the area would have an adverse affect on the existing ones, he’s seen otherwise.
“When new backcountry ski resorts start up, some people would suggest it’s going to deplete the number of people who are going to attend the existing resorts, but in actual fact it’s seen the direct opposite effect. It’s actually increased the number of skiers coming to the backcountry resorts,” he said.
Reid said approval of the resort is a “failure of democracy and environmental assessment.”
“It’s a significant backwards step at this time when the environmental concerns should be at the forefront,” said Reid.
One of his main concerns is the effect the resort would have on the wildlife.
Reid said a scientific study developed in 2007 showed the proposed ski resort area in the heart of the Purcell mountain range is the “mothership” for grizzly populations throughout the region.
“We have these populations in our area that aren’t necessarily large enough to be viable on their own, but we have this large population in the Purcell Mountains that occasionally will have individuals come into these other areas like the West Kootenay to repopulate,” he said.
“The best strategy for maintaining grizzly habitat and wildlife habitats in general is to just keep the area wild. The province’s promised strategy can’t come close to that.”
However, Thomson says measures have been taken to ensure the resort has as little environmental impact as possible.
“I believe the tourism industry understands the need to protect the natural resources on which it depends, and I would expect the 195 commitments made to mitigate environmental impact should be adequate to protect the area,” he said, adding the province will ensure those commitments are upheld.
“While it’s not without its detractors, I really truly believe this project will give a significant boost to the international profile of the area and to the province as a whole,” said Thomson.
“Anytime the tourism profile is raised for this region I think it’s positive… it’s beneficial to the businesses that will be able to participate in the development of the resort as well as long-term benefits for the communities surrounding Jumbo resort.”
Reid said he would rather see the province develop more sustainable industries in the area.
“I would much rather see that money and the province’s time and energy invested in something to diversify our economy and strengthen the sustainability of our region and province.”