The proponents of the beleaguered Jumbo Glacier Resort in southeastern B.C. are seeking a judicial review of a provincial order that left the multimillion-dollar project in limbo this summer.
The legal petition challenges a June ruling by Environment Minister Mary Polak that determined construction on the year-round ski resort planned for the Purcell Mountains had not been "substantially started." As a result, the project's environmental assessment certificate, first issued in 2004 and extended in 2009 by five years, expired, effectively halting major work at the site.
It was the latest blow to a controversial project that has been more than 25 years in the making. But proponents are hopeful the legal petition filed last month will lead to a reversal of the minister's order. The filing names Polak along with Justice Minister and Attorney-General Suzanne Anton and the Kootenay's Ktunaxa Nation Council, the project's primary opponent.
"We believe the project will prove itself out as time goes along, it's just a matter of being able to complete the work that's been started," said Tommaso Oberti, vice-president of the project's management company.
In the petition, developer Glacier Resorts claimed that only "very limited" construction on the $450-million resort could be carried out by the October 2014 deadline due to circumstances beyond its control, but partly within the province's control. Delays in approving a Master Development Agreement (MDA) and delays in the creation of the Jumbo Glacier Resort Municipality, combined with weather conditions, meant that the developers' window for construction was 16 weeks at most, according to the filing.
"The associated delays in ability to carry out construction at the Project site was entirely beyond Glacier Resorts' control," the petition states.
The province formed the municipality in November of 2012 with the appointment of a mayor and two councillors — despite the area having no residents — in a move that some critics have called unconstitutional.
The filing goes on to claim that work was directed towards the start of skiing operations at the site, consistent with the development of other B.C. ski resorts.
"A ski resort is not similar to a pipeline, mine or certain other types of projects subject to the (Environmental Assessment) Act in which operation is 'all or nothing,'" the petition reads. "Virtually all ski resorts start with a small initial operation and develop over a period of years."
The filing says all the documents and information provided to Victoria by the proponents were clear that the project would be developed in stages.
The petition also claims that the minister's order was influenced by Polak's supposed friendship with a member of the Ktunaxa Nation Council. According to the petition, provincial delegates informed Glacier Resorts representatives at a June meeting that Polak is "close friends" with Ktunaxa Nation chair Kathryn Teneese.
"The friendship is definitely an eyebrow-raising situation," Oberti said. "It's a reality and in our view it certainly had an impact."
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment declined to comment as the matter remains before the courts.
As for now, minor work continues at the site after developers have scaled back their original 6,300-bed-unit proposal to 2,000 beds in order to fall under the Environmental Assessment Office's threshold.
A call to the Ktunaxa Nation's legal counsel, Peter Grant, was not returned by deadline.