By Kevin Nimmock and Nicole Trigg
Environment Minister Mary Polak has determined that the Jumbo Glacier Resort project has not been substantially started.
The result of Ms. Polak’s decision (announced today, June 18th) is that Glacier Resort Ltd’s environmental assessment certificate has expired and thus, the proponent cannot proceed with developing this project unless a new certificate is obtained.
“It’s important to note that in a decision like this, it’s a statutory decision and so I am limited by law in my ability to discuss matters with colleagues or with anyone to be honest, except those directly involved such as those reporting through the Environmental Assessment Office,” said Ms. Polak during the live conference call she hosted regarding her decision on Jumbo Glacier Resort in response to The Pioneer‘s question of whether her decision would be met with opposition from within the BC Liberal party, and specifically from East Kootenay MLA Bill Bennett who has been a long-time supporter of the proposed ski resort. “So I have not had any discussions with my colleagues about my decision with any of them so I would not be able to comment on their reaction.”
She went on to say all her colleagues have a high degree of respect for the statutory decision making process and she doesn’t anticipate that her decision will cause any her issues with respect to her relations and workings with her colleagues.
Norm Macdonald, the MLA for Columbia River-Revelstoke, thinks otherwise.
“There is no question that Mary Polak has made a decision that is going to have colleagues angry at her, but it is the right decision,” he said, adding the minister deserves a lot of praise.
“One expects ministers to do the right thing, but these are people, and at a personal level, she has done something that I think is brave,” Mr. Macdonald said.
“Not surprisingly, I am disappointed,” Jumbo Glacier Resort Mayor Greg Deck said. “I would presume that the proponent will be meeting with the province to understand more fully the rational and the options, but I am not party to that process.”
Mr. Deck said if negotiations between Jumbo Glacier Ltd and the province cease, the $1 million that has been allocated to his council over a five-year term will likely be reallocated elsewhere.
“We exist to provide a municipal underpinning to the agreement between the province and Jumbo Glacier Resort, and if those necessary agreements are not in place, then our funding will be in question,” Mr. Deck said.
The qualifications of a substantial start are not set in stone. In making her decision, the minister was tasked to focus on all of the physical activities that had taken place at the project site, including the laying of two slabs of concrete in an avalanche zone.
“Legally, I think this was the best decision for the province to make,” Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft said. “This would become a precedent for other projects. Most projects that get environmental assessment approval are mining projects, so if the bar remained so low for the substantial start of projects, that could have much bigger impacts than just Jumbo.”
Mr. Taft continued, saying the province was likely disappointed by what the developer had not done, and that it is now time to start fixing many of the problems that had been created over the last 24 years.
“I hope the province dismantles the municipality immediately,” Mr. Taft said. “In the interim, if this is going to be tied up in court, there is absolutely no reason that the fake town of Jumbo and the $250,000 (per year) to keep that going should be continued.”
When The Pioneer asked Ms. Polak how her decision would affect Jumbo Council, which just held a June 16th public hearing on the Jumbo OCP after giving it 1st and 2nd reading, she said the nature of her decision meant that the other Ministries involved (Forest, Lands and Natural Resources, and Sport, Community and Cultural Development) had only just found out the determination on Jumbo.
“When it comes to the decisions that will have to be made by other ministries, it again goes to the same thing,” she said. “With any government decision, there’s a significant amount of discussion between Ministries that have an interest in a particular matter or have a role to play. Because of the nature of this decision, that has not taken place… and so now those Ministries… will now have to turn their minds to analyzing what is their next step with respect to their responsibilities.”
In response to The Pioneer‘s question on whether the land so far affected by construction would be remediated, Ms. Polak replied “that will be the next step in the process.”
“We will work with the proponent to determine what if anything needs to take place on the site and, again, it’s the nature of the decision,” she said. “Until my determination is announced, none of that work was possible to take place.”
Though there is much cause for jubilation among those who have been fighting the Jumbo Glacier Resort project for over 20 years, many are suspicious about what the provincial government will do next.
“As ecstatic as I am about this, I still am wondering if the government is going to try something to save the project,” Jim Galloway, director of Jumbo Creek Conservation Society.
Check back as this story continues to develop.