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It takes a village to destroy a glacier

By Michael Jessen

It’s an idea as crazy as sticking your head in the mouth of a rhinoceros and just as strange.

Oberto Oberti has had this idea since at least 1990 and when I say it’s crazy, I’m not accusing Oberti of rocking the boat or colouring outside the lines too much. This ranks up there with going over Niagara Falls wearing nothing but a bathing suit.

An architect by trade, Oberti’s crazy idea is to build a ski resort at 1,700 metres (5,500 feet) in the Jumbo Creek Valley, nestled in the Purcell Mountains of south-eastern BC.

Ski lifts would provide access to glaciers at 3,000 metres (Glacier Dome 9,900 feet) and 3,415 metres (Jumbo Mountain 11,150 feet) and the resort would offer North America’s longest natural snow vertical drop. The project will initially consist of a gondola, three glacier T-bars for winter and summer skiing, and two chairlifts.

Oberti’s master plan envisions a resort with an ultimate capacity of 6,250 tourist beds and 750 staff beds. On completion, it would consist of 143 single-family chalets, 240 townhouse units, 974 condo/hotel units, and 369 hotel rooms.

The network of lifts have a “comfortable carrying capacity” of 9,000 people per day in winter and half that number in summer, according to the master plan.  That’s like putting almost the whole population of Nelson (9,268 people according to the 2006 census) into the valley in winter.

The proposal has a $1 billion price tag according to the developer who hopes it will attract guests from across North America, Europe and Asia.

So what makes this idea so crazy?

First, it is located just 35 kilometres beyond Panorama Mountain Village, a ski-in, ski-out resort with more than 2,800 acres of terrain, 4,000 feet of vertical drop skiing, twice daily direct shuttles from Calgary International Airport, and expansion plans to accommodate up to 7,000 skiers daily.

Second, the upgrading of the 35 kilometre existing forestry road to the abandoned sawmill site where the resort would be located is to be financed by a multi-million dollar cost-sharing agreement with BC taxpayers.

According to the province’s Ministry of Transportation and Highways, “new highway construction of this type of roadway can cost upwards of $2.0 to $2.4 million per kilometre.” If Jumbo fails at any point, taxpayers are on the hook for every dollar.

Third, there are already a dozen ski resorts within 150 kilometres of the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort that are not operating at capacity and are struggling to survive.

Fourth, according to a provincial government report, the proposed resort “has the potential for substantial and direct cumulative impacts to the Central Purcell grizzly bear population.” Peer-reviewed science by biologist Dr. Michael Proctor has found the Purcell grizzly is close to threatened species status.

“Keeping this core anchor sub-population healthy, intact, and un-fragmented is likely essential to maintaining the long-term self-sustainability of the larger Canadian regional Purcell-Selkirk grizzly as well as maintaining the international grizzly bear distribution extending directly south into the US,” Proctor wrote in a July 2010 letter to the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) that will decide the fate of the proposal.

“Frankly, inserting a large all season resort in the centre of the range will increase the challenge of achieving such an improved balance, as well as potentially create another serious fracture across a most important regional core subpopulation,” Proctor added.

A fifth reason why this resort is a crazy idea is the massive opposition to it among the area public. The District of Invermere, located 53 kilometres from the proposed resort and the nearest community, voted to oppose the project in 2004 after receiving “overwhelming and widespread opposition to the proposal.”

A Regional District of East Kootenay supervised plebiscite revealed 78 percent of the local population opposed the resort. The wording on the ballot was simple: “Are you in favour of the Jumbo Glacier Resort?”

Opposition to the proposal


Over the past 20 years, the EAO office has received more than 10,000 comments opposing the resort; a March 2004 rally in Nelson attracted 700 people marching the streets leading to the hotel where the EAO was holding an open house on the project; the latest rally in Nelson on Feb. 5 attracted more than 200 people still voicing unequivocal opposition to the project, chanting “Jumbo Wild” at the urging of numerous speakers.

Area environmental groups like the West Kootenay EcoSociety, the Valhalla Wilderness Society, Wildsight, West Kootenay Coalition for Jumbo Wild, and the Jumbo Creek Conservation Society are opposed.  The NDP MLA for Nelson-Creston is against it, as is the area’s Green Party constituency association.

Celebrities such as singer Bruce Cockburn and retired NHL all-star and Canadian Olympian defenseman Scott Niedermayer, have publicly voiced their opposition to the project.

Despite tourism department staff comments that the proposed resort would provide a permanent summer training facility for Canadian ski athletes, both Olympic gold medal winning cross-country skier Becky Scott and Helmut Spiegl, Canada’s National Men's Downhill Ski Team Coach for the past four Olympics are against the year-round, high-alpine ski resort.

The Ktunaxa/Kinbasket Tribal Council holds Aboriginal title and rights to the area where the resort would be located. In November, 2010, the Ktunaxa called on the BC government to reject the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort.

Ktunaxa's Qat’muk (GOT MOOK) Declaration

The Ktunaxa delivered the Qat’muk (GOT MOOK) Declaration – an expression of Ktunaxa sovereignty and stewardship principles – to the provincial legislature after a lengthy journey from Ktunaxa territory and a brief ceremony welcoming the Ktunaxa Nation flag. (For more information on the Declaration go to www.beforejumbo.com)

Qat’muk is the Ktunaxa name for the area that encompasses the Jumbo-Toby Creek watershed.

“The provincial government is about to approve an environmental disaster in south eastern British Columbia,” said Kathryn Teneese, Ktunaxa Nation Council chair. “The Ktunaxa Nation is calling on all British Columbians to help prevent this jumbo mistake.”

A month before delivery of the Declaration, the BC government gave the Ktunaxa $1.65 million over three years to, in the words of a government news release, “more effectively engage with the Province on land and resource development decisions in Ktunaxa Territory.” If this was an attempt at bribery, it obviously didn’t work.

The Ktunaxa demonstration surprised and angered representatives of Glacier Resorts Ltd., who had earlier signed an agreement with the Shuswap Indian Band detailing how the local First Nation will benefit from the resort. The agreement provides for scholarships and training programs to introduce S.I.B. members to the tourism and hospitality industry.

“This type of demonstration is not appropriate as part of the public process. It is not how to participate if there is any respect for the process or the other participants,” noted Grant Costello, senior vice president of Glacier Resorts Ltd.

And then there’s the spectre of climate change and what impact warming temperatures will have on ski resorts everywhere. According the Columbia Basin Trust, glaciers in the region have shrunk on average 16 per cent based on a 15-year period ending in 2000.

Why has the project proposal not died?


Opposition to the resort, however, does not guarantee its demise. The project has hung around for 20 years because, to date, the Environmental Assessment Office has never refused a resort proposal. A decision is expected soon.

The Jumbo Glacier Resort is being promoted by that segment of our society that is on a relentless quest for more. Its proponents and supporters are blind to the fact that we live in a world of finite resources, constrained by strict environmental limits.  The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the European Commission have both concluded that an estimated 60 percent of the world’s ecosystem services have been degraded or over-used since the mid-20th Century.

Prosperity for the few founded on ecological destruction is not the basis for a civilized society.

“For over 100 years people have been in and out of the Jumbo Valley,” says Rowena Eloise, an Argenta resident who has opposed the resort since its inception. “It is a rare and wonderful valley with four fabulous glaciers. It is a sacred place.  Let’s keep Jumbo wild forever.”

If you agree with Rowena, now is the time to make your opposition known. The Jumbo Glacier Resort village will destroy four glaciers; it will take the world to defeat this crazy idea.

Resources


Write or phone the Honourable Steve Thomson, Minister of Natural Resource Operations, Room 027, Parliament Buildings, Victoria, BC V8V 1X4. Phone 250 387-5896, Fax 250 356-2965, Email steve.thomson.mla@leg.bc.ca.

Call Psyche Brown, Manager of Major Projects with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts in Kamloops at 250-371-3935 to let her know of your opposition.

Contacts at the Environmental Assessment Office can be found at http://www.eao.gov.bc.ca/.

The EAO Jumbo Glacier Resort page is at http://a100.gov.bc.ca/appsdata/epic/html/deploy/epic_project_home_18.html.

The Jumbo Glacier Resort project site is at http://www.jumboglacierresort.com/.

The JGR Master Plan can be downloaded from   http://www.jumboglacierresort.com/documents/MP2007/JGR-MP_2007.pdf.

Oberto Oberti Architecture and Urban Design http://www.obertiarchitecture.com/.

Wildsight Jumbo Wild http://www.wildsight.ca/campaigns/jumbowild.

Jumbo Wild – Keep It Wild http://www.keepitwild.ca/.

The latest Nelson Daily story http://thenelsondaily.com/news/issues/province-says-ktunaxa-stance-stalled-jumbo-decision-8588.

The Qat’Muk  Declaration can be found at http://www.ktunaxa.org/news/documents/Declaration.pdf.

Dr. Michael Proctor’s letter to the Environmental Assessment Office is at http://www.conservationnw.org/files/Proctor-letter-July-2010.pdf/

The JGR approval process history began in the summer of 1990. See http://www.jumboglacierresort.com/documents/approvalprocess/JGR-ApprovalProcess-History.pdf.

During his 40 years in Nelson, Michael Jessen has written more than 700 columns on sustainable lifestyles, energy efficiency, and waste reduction for both print and online media. Currently, Michael is an efficiency and renewable energy advisor and operates Zero Waste Solutions, a consultancy specializing in aiding companies, communities, and individuals in the sustainable use of resources. He can be contacted at zerowaste@shaw.ca.