After more than 20 years of designs, court battles, middling bouts of construction, and plenty of protests, plans for a massive ski resort in southeastern British Columbia’s Jumbo Valley, in the Purcell Mountains, are dead in the water. On Tuesday the BC Court of Appeals ruled that the would-be resort can’t be built without undertaking an entirely new round of environmental assessments. For nearly five years there have been a few back and forth handings of the case from one level of the BC court system to another. In 2015, the plans were temporarily shelved when a BC minister ruled that the park’s 10-year certificate of environmental assessment, issued in 2004, had passed. Glacier appealed that decision and won, the BC government appealed the appeal, and, finally, this ruling definitively states that Glacier’s time is up.
The Jumbo Valley is located in territory sacred to the Ktunaxa Nation. The Ktunaxa Nation Council had fought the proposed development for years, at one point being told in court that their argument that the area is “Qat’muk,” the grizzly bear’s spirit home, was insufficient to block the proposal. Wildlife proponents argued that the Jumbo Valley is a crucial wildlife corridor and an invaluable grizzly bear habitat.
Those concerns were apparently not enough to block the original environmental assessment, but the failure of Glacier Resorts Ltd. to begin significant construction within a 10-year period from when the environmental impact was assessed doomed the project to failure.
The plans as drawn up were for a resort that would cover 15,000 acres in total. 271 of those would form the bustling center of the resort, with nearly a thousand condos, hundreds of townhomes and chalets, hundreds of hotel rooms, shops, and a gondola trundling up to the roof of a nearby 11,000-foot peak. 22 ski lifts were planned for the park, serving four glaciers: Farnham, Commander, Jumbo, and Karnak.
But the original environmental impacts were assessed in the late 1990s. Approval was granted in 2004 with a five-year end term that was extended to ten years. Lawyers for wilderness groups as well as the Ktunaxa Nation argued that since construction hadn’t yet begun in earnest by 2015, the old environmental assessments were invalid. Much can change within a decade.
“Developers can’t be allowed to hang on to an environmental certificate forever,” said Olivia French, a lawyer for Ecojustice, a group that fought the project’s approval. “Respecting the expiration dates of environmental assessments is essential, because scientific understanding and best practices can change dramatically in a decade.
“Given the state of grizzly bears in the region, and the opposition of the Ktunaxa First Nation, it’s hard to conceive of any viable future for this project.”
Glacier Resorts Ltd. has yet to announce whether they intend to seek a new environmental assessment certificate, or if they will abandon their plans altogether. As of now, and for the near future, the Jumbo Vally will remain wild.
Photo: Jumbo Wild