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Jumbo protesters not leaving without guarantees

Unexpected tenure transfer gives resort developer the right to place lift on Farnham Glacier

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It’s been almost a month since Jumbo Wild supporters blockaded the entrance to the Farnham Creek road to stop Glacier Resorts Ltd. from building a road and portable platter lift in the Jumbo watershed of the East Kootenays. And without a guarantee from the province and developer the protesters say they’re not going anywhere.

“We’re going to keep the blockade up until we get commitments from the province and the proponent that no further road building or construction will take place this year, or until the weather makes it so (construction) is not an option any more,” said Dave Quinn of Wildsight, which is coordinating the Jumbo Wild campaign to prevent the development of a four-season resort by Glacier Resorts. Jumbo is located west of Invermere in the same drainage as Panorama Mountain Resort.

The conflict was not over Glacier’s resort proposal, which passed the provincial Master Plan process last year despite objections by local residents and governments. The blockade is the result of a tenure to operate a ski training facility on Farnham Glacier that was originally awarded to the Calgary Olympic Development Association (CODA) and recently transferred to Glacier Resorts. Glacier Resorts built an 800-metre road to the Farnham Glacier, and was preparing to install a portable platter lift when Wildsight learned about the development and rallied the public and local First Nations to create a blockade.

Work stopped immediately, but Quinn says they will maintain the blockade until they are assured that the work will not continue through the winter. The concern, says Quinn, was that the province awarded the tenure without consulting the public, existing tenure holders, First Nations, local governments or other agencies. The tenure area also increased from 240 hectares to 1,400 hectares.

The government maintains that it did not have to consult with stakeholders as it was only a transfer of licences, from CODA to Glacier Resorts, and because the portable platter is consistent with the prescribed use of the area for skiing. However, given the controversy over the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort and opposition of First Nations to the development, Quinn says the province was obligated to at least inform the public about the changes.

“Nobody knew what was going on until the proponent brought in earth moving equipment and started to build a road to the glacier,” said Quinn. “The proponent said it had to do with CODA and their plans to run a training camp, but we contacted CODA and they said it was not the case. There was no public consultation, no First Nations consultation, no other stakeholder consultation with other tenure holders that have an interest in the area, including a heli-ski company and guide company, and no body of government was notified.

“We have a big problem with the process. This was a new backcountry tenure with no public consultation… all of the decisions were made behind closed doors.”

Quinn says the government’s decision to expand and transfer the tenure is also bad news for their campaign to prevent the development of the resort, which still has to go through consultation with First Nations before the proponents can apply for a Master Development Plan for the area. If nothing else he says it shows that the province still favours the creation of a ski hill in the Jumbo drainage, ignoring the local opposition.

But Peter Walters, the assistant deputy minister for tourism operations at the Ministry for Tourism, Culture and the Arts, says the tenure was awarded properly and that Glacier Resorts has respected the blockade despite the fact that the development in the area was consistent with their tenure.

“Glacier Resorts respected the concerns of the protesters and withdrew from the next stop of the project, which was installing a temporary, portable platter tow,” he said. “It’s also safe to say that it was a peaceful protest.”

Glacier Resorts has not applied for an injunction that would remove the blockade, and Walters does not know whether any attempts will be made to continue the work in the autumn.

“The purpose of the tenure allows alpine skiing, and includes a road allowance and for the facilities and improvements necessary. The basic intent of that tenure is very clear, it’s about alpine ski training and effectively sets Farnham Glacier into two areas for training. One of the areas is what CODA has historically used, using a snowcat to move skiers up the glacier, and this other additional area is for folks that are not served by CODA. I think the proponents would suggest that a portable platter would have less impact that running snowcats, but it’s probably arguable either way.”

The second area, which expands the tenure area more than six-fold, will be offered to ski clubs, provincial teams, and other ski and snowboard programs not currently served by CODA. It would be open to Canadian groups only.

“Those proposed uses are entirely consistent with what went through the public process before, and the decision was made to proceed with a replacement licence,” said Walters. “If the use were inconsistent I would assume there would be a public process.”

As for what happens next, Walters says that will be up to the tenure holder but that talks will likely take place over the winter between stakeholders that may or may not involve the province.

Quinn says that Wildsight is prepared to extend their blockade until next year, and that his group won’t budge until there is a public process to review the tenure. While the government says it was a transfer of licences after the CODA licence expired in December 2007, he maintains that it is actually a new licence because of the size of the expansion of the tenure area, and because it allows lift and road construction.

As for the claim that other ski clubs would be able to use the expanded tenure, he says allowances were already made with CODA to allow summer training for amateur athletes as well as members of the national ski and snowboard teams.

Regarding the resort development, Quinn says that residents have been fighting the proposal for almost 20 years, based on environmental concerns, concerns for resident wildlife, and the fact that the proposed resort is within driving distance of more than a dozen other resorts that are not currently at capacity. The Ktunaxa First Nations, which claims Jumbo as part of its traditional territory, is also on record opposing the proposed development as presented, although they are negotiating with the province and developer. Walters says those discussions should wrap up in the next few months, allowing the developers to proceed with their application for a Master Development Plan.

Some members of the band have also joined the blockade, believing they should have been consulted before the tenure was awarded to Glacier Resorts — especially considering that they are already in discussion with the province over the tenure area.

Quinn says the conditional Environmental Assessment certificate awarded to the developers will expire in 2009, which will require a new Environmental Assessment.

As well he says the proponents will have to win the support of Ktunaxa and Sinixt First Nations.

Last summer the regional district held a plebiscite of residents to gauge their support for the project, and roughly 80 per cent of respondents said they were against. Other polls have also been negative, although the project does have the support of the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The project calls for the initial installation of a gondola, three T-bars for winter and summer skiing and two chairlifts, and the construction of a lodge and accommodations for overnight visitors. At buildout, a process expected to take 20 years, Jumbo Glacier Resort would have 6,250 beds, which includes 750 beds for staff. The Jumbo drainage is home to several large glaciers that would accommodate summer skiing.