No town, no people but Jumbo’s now a “resort municipality”

In a move swiftly condemned by MLA Norm Macdonald as “an abuse of power” the provincial government has approved the incorporation of the as-yet-unbuilt Jumbo Glacier ski resort as a mountain resort municipality even though it has no population and no infrastructure. Ian Cobb photo/East Kootenay Online News Weekly

By David F. Rooney and Ian Cobb

In a move swiftly condemned by MLA Norm Macdonald as “an abuse of power” the provincial government has approved the incorporation of the as-yet-unbuilt Jumbo Glacier ski resort as a mountain resort municipality even though it has no population and no infrastructure.

Bill Bennett, minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, announced the decision today, November 20.

Not only that, he also announced the appointment of a municipal council for the uninhabited ‘municipality.’ They will serve a term ending Nov. 30, 2014. and an interim corporate officer has also been named and will serve until the first council meeting of the new municipality.

Appointed as Jumbo’s first mayor and councillors are Greg Deck, Nancy Hugunin and Steve Ostrander. Phil Taylor will be the interim corporate officer, ensuring that the municipality is operational by its incorporation date of Feb. 19, 2013.  Deck lives in Radium Hot Springs, Hugunin in Fairmont Hot Springs, Ostrander in Invermere and Taylor in Golden.

“This appointment is just a case of having to be ready to work for the things that I believe in. It would be hard, after urging the province for so long to ‘step up’ on this issue not to be ready to do same when asked,” Deck told the East Kootenay News Online Weekly after the announcement was made.

Deck grew up in the Radium Hot Springs area, and after education and employment in the U.S. and France, returned to the region in 1979.

He also served as the chair of the Regional District of East Kootenay for six years, vice-chair for three years and most recently has been a trustee of the Municipal Finance Authority of B.C. He also continues to sit on the Columbia Basin Trust Board as one of its founding directors.

The controversial resort’s Master Development Agreement was approved this past March.

According to the statement from Bennett, he Regional District of East Kootenay asked the government to incorporate Jumbo as a mountain resort municipality in 2009. In May, the government amended the Local Government Act to permit the incorporation of a mountain resort municipality whether or not there are residents in the area at the time of incorporation.

The year-round ski resort will be located at the foot of Jumbo Mountain and Jumbo Glacier, 55 km west of Invermere. The $450-million resort is planned in three phases and will ultimately include 5,500 bed-units in a 104-hectare resort base area. It is projected to provide approximately 3,750 person years of construction employment and create 750 to 800 permanent full-time jobs, the government statement claimed.

“I’ve not spoken to anyone outside the BC Liberal party who thinks that this legislation makes sense,” Macdonald said in a statement issued on Tuesday morning.  “To create a town where there are no residents, to appoint a council that may never face election, and do this with no real possibility that a resort will be built is ridiculous.  But a small group of Jumbo supporters are getting their way on this one: transferring control of public lands into private hands.”

With only six months left in their mandate, and against the express wishes of the Ktunaxa and local residents, the BC Liberal government has pushed the giveaway of public lands in the Kootenays into high gear, he said.

“One has to ask why the BC Liberals would press forward with this designation at this time.  This resort will never be built, and after more than a decade, the developer has not been able to find an investor.

“It’s a shocking mismanagement of the powers that have been vested in this government, and is indicative of just how far this government has strayed.

“There is no one that can say this move today is in the public interest.  It’s a tremendous abuse of power that voters in this area will reject.”

Needless to say, not everyone agreed with Macdonald.

Doug Clovechok, the BC Liberal Party candidate in Columbia River-Revelstoke, praised the decision.

“Let me say that the journey to this point has been a democratic one,” he told The Current on Tuesday afternoon. “During the process we saw elected officials from the Regional District of East Kootenay in an official vote, turn the decision making responsibility over to the province. Jumbo was debated at length in the Legislative Assembly giving MLA’s on both sides of the house the opportunity to express their views or concerns.

“Although I respect the voices of those who might be opposed to the decision I applaud Minister Bennett for his decision as it was not made lightly and took into account all considerations that were voiced. It is my sincere hope that the polarizing effect that this issue has had on our communities can finally end. Our area and our families need jobs that are sustainable and well paying; jobs that will be created with a balanced approach to the environment knowing that the proponent has 195 environmental commitments to achieve. The province has chosen three very capable officials and a skilled administrator, all from the East Kootenay’s, who I am confident will do an excellent job as stewards of this project. After 20 plus years of indecision on a project that actually included the support of two NDP Premiers, it took the courage of Premier Clark to finally make a decision.”

Bennett pooh-poohed Macdonald’s reaction.

“We have Mike Harcourt on the record… we’ve got Glen Clark on the record, in the Hansard, extolling the virtues of the project. The proponents have responded to every request of government” – from Socred to NDP to the current Liberals, he told the East Kootenay Online News Weekly.

“I think the NDP are being terribly hypocritical about this,” Bennett said, adding he’s more concerned about the economic well-being of the province and the Columbia Valley than anything else.

“The Columbia Valley has actually been left out of the economic successes (of the region) in the last seven or eight years,” he said, pointing out that Jumbo will create hundreds of construction and road building jobs. “All the good jobs that support families in an area of the province that hasn’t really done well the past few years.

Ian Cobb is the publisher and editor of the East Kootenay Online News Weekly

Click here to read Ian Cobb’s story about local outrage in the Columbia Valley

Click here to read the original government news release and its associated background information.