By Terri Theodore, The Winnipeg Free Press, THE CANADIAN PRESS, Thursday, March 22, 2012
VANCOUVER – The British Columbia government has cleared the way for a controversial ski resort in the province’s Purcell Mountains, where local First Nations say grizzly bears dance.
The Jumbo Glacier Ski Resort, a 104-hectare, year-round development, has been in the works for 22 years, and has faced fierce opposition from the Ktunaxa First Nation and environmentalists at every step along the way.
On Tuesday, the resort won the approval of the provincial government, as Forest and Lands Minister Steve Thomson signed a master development agreement with Glacier Resorts Ltd.
“I recognize and respect that there have been differing views on this project, but after more than 20 years of this extensive review and consultation, it was time to make a decision,” Thomson told reporters in Victoria.
Thomson said the agreement was signed after one of the most extensive consultation and review processes in the history of the province.
The $900-million resort would create the only North American ski lift access to high-alpine glaciers in a pristine area of the Purcell Mountain range, about 55 kilometres west of Invermere in southeast B.C.
The development would include a gondola, ski lifts, hotels, condos, townhomes, commercial facilities and an environmental monitoring station.
The resort would sit on land the Ktunaxa First Nation says is the spiritual home of grizzly bears. The band told the government two years ago it would not stand for development in the area.
Ktunaxa Nation chair Kathryn Teneese said the community is disappointed and angry.
“The suggestion that this kind of development was going to be plunked in the middle of a place that we consider to be so profoundly important to us – we were dismayed,” she said.
According to the agreement, Glacier Resorts must put in place a grizzly bear management strategy and must set up a wildlife management area, Thomson said.
A grizzly bear population survey conducted as part of the environmental review process concluded there were nearly 70 bears in the Central Purcell study area, although Thomson said only three grizzlies made their home at the immediate development site.
But the Ktunaxa say the Purcell grizzly is close to being considered threatened, and they say the area is a key movement corridor for the bears.
Teneese said the grizzly is her people’s most powerful spirit.
“If spirits had a king, that would be it,” she said. “That’s why it’s of such huge concern. It’s something that’s so important to us as a people.”
Teneese said her community isn’t giving up its fight against the proposal. She said the band council will meet soon to decide its next move.
“We’re hoping that we’re not going to have to quell – put it this way – some exuberant enthusiasm and concern from some our citizens, because it’s a very important place.”
Teneese said legal action is also an option, and she pointed Glacier Resorts still must meet 195 commitments in its environmental assessment certificate.
Even Thomson acknowledged the agreement wasn’t finalized, as he promoted the beauty of the site to be built over the Lake of the Hanging Glaciers.
“This is a very, very special site. If this gets built, this will be a very, very special resort. It will be the only resort that’s based on glaciers.”
Thomson noted there were was still a legal process ahead for the developer and it needs to make sure those requirements are met before it gets its permit.
New Democrat Opposition Leader Adrian Dix pointed out the most recent independent analysis said the project isn’t in the public interest.
“It doesn’t meet the economic test, it doesn’t meet the environmental test, it doesn’t meet the First Nations test, and 92 per cent of the people in the community who commented on the project were opposed,” he said.
“Clearly, this is not a decision that I would make if I were sitting around the cabinet table making the decision.”
Joe Foy of the environmental group Wilderness Committee calls approval for the resort “appalling.”
“For two decades no government has been willing to approve this highly unpopular and destructive development,” he said in a news release.
Foy said the last thing the region needs is a mega-ski resort city high up in mountains that will endanger wildlife.