The Jumbo Glacier Resort has lived to see another day, but we’re still a long way from a grand opening for the controversial mega-ski resort in British Columbia’s Purcell Mountains.
The B.C. Supreme Court ruled on Aug. 17, 2018, that the province’s minister of environment, George Heyman, must reconsider whether the Jumbo Glacier Project can proceed.
The ruling followed a June hearing, during which Glacier Resorts Ltd., the developer behind the proposed resort, challenged a 2015 decision by Heyman’s predecessor. At the time, the minister decided that Glacier had not “substantially started” construction on the resort within a 10-year deadline, leading to the expiration of the project’s environmental assessment certificate and effectively putting the project on ice.
But the court found that the minister’s decision was unreasonable because it did not take into account various delays Glacier claimed were beyond its control. Now, Heyman will have to reconsider whether Glacier should be allowed to continue with the project.
The result is disappointing — for Ecojustice and our clients Wildsight and Jumbo Creek Conservation Society, two groups who have fought this project tirelessly for decades, and who we represented as interveners in the case.
But the ruling could also be an opportunity for the minister to take a more comprehensive look at the facts.
As interveners, our clients were unable to present the full version of their story to the court. That meant that the court heard a rather one-sided narrative in which Glacier portrayed itself as the helpless victim of bad luck and bureaucracy. Now, we should get an opportunity to make submissions to the minister to set the record straight.
With the full facts before him, we are optimistic that he won’t allow the project to go ahead based on an environmental assessment that is years past its sell-by date.
The problem with expired environmental assessment certificates
Imagine if we based all our decisions on information from more than a decade ago.
There’s a good chance that what was cutting edge then— from new research and studies to new technology — is now hopelessly outdated.
This is certainly the case for the grizzly bear data on which the project’s 2004 environmental assessment certificate was based. Researchers first gathered that information in the 1990s, and in the last ten years we’ve developed a far better understanding of the science around grizzly bears and the impact that this project would have on them.
That’s why it’s so important that our laws include built-in deadlines for environmental assessment certificates, and that we stick to them.
The B.C. Supreme Court sided with Glacier in part because it agreed that the developer was not wholly at fault for some of the delays that led to the expiration of its certificate. However, our clients maintain that Glacier had ample time to begin the project, but that its own blunders caused it to miss the deadline.
The problem with building a mega resort in sacred grizzly bear territory
Upholding environmental laws and setting positive precedents are central to Ecojustice’s work, but it’s important to remember the more tangible reasons to oppose this project.
Jumbo Valley lies along one of North America’s most important wildlife corridors, and is an important area of habitat for grizzly bears. The unique positioning of the valley makes it a go-between where bears can cross between Canada and the United States. As Wildsight says on its Jumbo Wild website, the valley is “ground zero” for grizzly populations “locally, regionally, and even continentally.”
Jumbo Valley is also highly significant for members of the Ktunaxa First Nation, who call the area Qat’muk and believe it is home to the Grizzly Bear Spirit. The Ktunaxa fear that, if built, the Jumbo Glacier resort would desecrate Qat’muk, drive the Grizzly Bear Spirit away, and render their spiritual practices meaningless, depriving current and future generations of this core part of their culture.
The project also lacks support from many community members in the area, inspiring resistance efforts from individuals and grassroots organizations including Jumbo Creek Conservation Society.
As the minister reconsiders whether the Jumbo Glacier Resort should be allowed to proceed, we intend to do everything we can to bring these issues to his attention, and to encourage him to say no to this project one more time.
As Jim Galloway, a member of the Jumbo Creek Conservation Society, said, “We will continue to fight this project and are committed to keeping Jumbo wild.”