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District to keep Jumbo decision local

Regional district votes down motion

The Regional District of East Kootenay voted to keep the decision on whether to approve a new ski resort in the Jumbo Valley local, after the mayor of Sparwood put forward a motion last Friday (March 3) that would have deferred the decision to the province.

The proponents of the resort, Vancouver-based Glacier Resorts Ltd., have not submitted their application for zoning to the RDEK yet, but are expected to table it once the province has approved changes to the Master Plan.

The vote was not a final decision on whether to rezone the area for the proposed resort, but to ensure that the decision remains in the community.

According to Sparwood Mayor David Wilks, who brought the motion forward, the proponents deserve to have the project approved or denied in a timely way.

"The way I look at it is that this as been going on since 1991, 15 years, and the RDEK has only been involved for two years in the core process. Other than that the province has been dealing with this for 13 of the 15 years, and suddenly it will be back on our lap," said Wilks.

"What concerns me to some degree is that if we keep (the decision) and refuse zoning, the province can just invoke Bill 75 and override us… They could decide that Jumbo is important for the province, and there is nothing we can do about it. They could make the final decision no matter what we decide, so it makes sense to give the decision to them."

Wilks voted yes on his motion, one of only two RDEK directors to do so. The final vote was 13-2 against the motion.

The other yes vote belonged to board chair Greg Deck, the mayor of Radium Hot Springs for six terms, and the RDEK chair for past four years. He is a supporter of the Jumbo Glacier Resort, and is concerned that a vocal minority of opponents is derailing the process.

He described the Friday meeting as "spirited", as the board heard submissions from 18 delegations both for and against the proposed resort. In fact, it was a record turnout of delegates for any meeting in the 41 years the RDEK has held meetings, according to the Invermere Valley Echo.

"The vote was 13-2, and what this reflects more than anything is that some members were only willing to stick their necks out for a winning cause," he said, adding that the vocal opponents to the resort consider themselves to represent the majority of people in the district. He believes the majority of people in the region are still undecided, with a few people strongly for and against the resort battling it out for public opinion.

Some of the resort’s opponents are calling for a referendum, but Deck says that would likely be impossible. The Local Government Act does not allow referendums on zoning issues, and even if it were an unofficial poll he doubts either side would concede.

"We’d be getting into a kind of Quebec referendum situation where you keep asking the question until you get the answer you want," he said.

Now that the motion has failed, he says the RDEK should address the zoning application when it comes like any other application, and judge it on its merits.

"This project has been on the table for a long time, and the decision on Friday will ensure that it remains there for even longer."

The Jumbo Wild campaign, one of the chief opponents of the proposed resort, called the decision a major setback for the resort.

"Today has been a landmark day for Jumbo, but most importantly, for the voice of East Kootenay residents," said Jumbo Wild spokesperson John Bergenske in a press release. "Our directors today demonstrated that they do indeed listen to their constituents, and have chosen to give residents a chance to voice their opinions and concerns – to have a final say in the fate of Jumbo Valley.

"…by allowing the residents to actively and publicly participate in the decision making process, we strongly believe that one more nail has been pounded into the coffin of this unpopular resort proposal. We’ve kept it local. Now we need to keep it wild."

According to Oberto Oberti, the development manager for the architecture and design of the proposed resort through Pheidias Project Management, Friday’s vote changes nothing for the project.

"We didn’t really expect that the motion would go that way," he said. "The people who are against this project are experts in public relations and are calling it a victory, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch.

"A lot of the (RDEK) directors made it clear that this was not a vote on the project, based on support or non-support, because it was an unusual motion. Several directors made it transparent that they favoured the motion, but were convinced that it was not proper for RDEK not to do the work they felt was assigned to the region."

Oberti is also concerned that opponents of the resort are overstating the percentage of residents that are against resort development in the Jumbo Valley.

"I certainly believe that there is majority support," he said.

Most opponents are using the results of the Environmental Assessment’s public comment period, when the EAO office received about 5,000 submissions. About 87 per cent were negative, but Oberti says that has more to do with opponents organizing letter campaigns.

"The EAO (report) showed that less than two per cent of the people participated, which was the 5,000 written responses of which 13 per cent were in support and 87 per cent against. The EAO also told us that this was a project that had the most support, most projects normally don’t have any letters of support."

Oberti is hoping that the Master Plan will be completed in about six months, but he is hesitant to estimate when the project will come before the RDEK.

"It’s a process that can be relatively simple or relatively complex," he said. "In the past we’ve been wrong all the time. Every time we embark on a process it always took longer and was more complicated than we thought.

"Hopefully we’re in the last stretch. Right now it’s important for the facts of this project to be known, because there are a lot of stories going around that are not accurate."

The proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort is located about 54 km west of Invermere, more than 30 km down the road from Intrawest’s Panorama Mountain Village.