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Legal challenge over Jumbo municipality delayed

Conservation group claims incorporation of municipality with no residents is unconstitutional



Opponents of the Jumbo Glacier Resort Municipality will have to wait a little longer to have their case heard after a hearing into the legality of the resort's 2012 incorporation was delayed this week.

A two-day B.C. Supreme Court hearing was supposed to begin Monday, Feb. 23 in Vancouver, but was adjourned due to "procedural complications with late-filed amended responses and affidavits," said lawyer Jason Gratl, who is representing the West Kootenay Community EcoSociety. He expects the hearing to reconvene in May, although no official date has been set.

The conservation group filed a petition in 2013 challenging the constitutionality of the municipality, focusing on a specific provision in the Local Government Act that permits a resort to be incorporated without citizens. The year prior, the province formed Jumbo Glacier Resort Municipality and appointed a mayor and two councillors.

It appeared to be a big step towards making the year-round ski resort west of Invermere a reality, but the controversy continues for the proponents of the multi-billion dollar project that's now been 24 years in the making.

"Municipalities, historically and presently, are almost exclusively defined as an incorporation of a government-like structure of residents," Gratl said. "So merely by definition under the Constitution, which assigns to the Province of British Columbia legislative authority of municipal institutions, we say that Jumbo is not a municipality."

Jumbo Mayor Greg Deck declined to address the legal challenge directly as the matter remains before the courts, but said the creation of the municipality gave "enduring certainty" to questions around the resort's land use that have been reviewed extensively for years.

"I think that such certainty is to the benefit of all involved," he wrote in an email. "I think (the municipality) is a very efficient way to administer the creation and subsequent operation of the community, and that efficiency is in the best interests of all the eventual taxpayers."

A spokesperson for the developers, Tomasso Oberti, also weighed in on the legal battle explaining that the province's rationale for incorporating Jumbo was meant to cut down on the time it would have taken several administrative processes to go through the Regional District of East Kootenay.

"At that point, the project had been in process for 22 years, so obviously there wasn't much appetite for a renewed process which would have been a repeat of four previous processes: the land use decision, the master plan decision, the environmental assessment decision and the master development agreement decision," he said. "It was at that point when both the regional district and the province decided that the most expedient way to create a legal mechanism for oversight was to create a municipality for the project."

Victoria's decision to cut through the red tape is exactly why Gratl feels Jumbo's incorporation needs to be questioned.

"Even from a business perspective, it doesn't look good or like a level playing field," he said. "It looks like a unique creature of statute designed to assist a specific project rather than a sensible or orderly vehicle for business development."

Oberti countered by saying that having a municipality in place actually adds a layer of bureaucracy for developers that he described as "a mixed blessing."

"(The municipality) provided a mechanism to start moving dirt within a couple of years as opposed to within five years, but at the same time it's a limiting factor."

Plans for the Jumbo Glacier Resort include more than 20 ski lifts and accommodation for over 6,000 people in an alpine village. The resort is projected to create 750 jobs on traditional Ktunaxa Nation land. The aboriginal band has challenged the resort's approval in court, claiming the proposed development sits on sacred land.

Now, developer Glacier Resorts Ltd. awaits the decision from B.C.'s environment minister over whether laying the foundation for a day lodge last October constitutes "a substantial start to construction." If the province deems that not enough work was done, the developer's 10-year environmental certificate will expire.


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