Jumbo: No Substance

October 12 was a landmark date in the ongoing Jumbo saga. It was the date that I, and many others, have been awaiting for five years. At 11:59pm on October 12, the Environmental Certificate for the Jumbo Glacier Resort expired. Maybe. Over the course of the past 24 years, there have been a lot of landmark dates and landmark decisions. The question is always: what does this mean? What now? Here’s my take on where we’re at and where we’re going.

Jumbo Glacier Resort Environmental Certificate
The Environmental Certificate (EC) for the JGR was issued in 2004 after a lengthy environmental assessment process, including a public consultation period. There were nearly 6000 public submissions, 91% of which were opposed to the project! Despite overwhelming public opposition and grizzly bear science, the EC was issued. In BC, ECs are issued for a five-year period and can only be extended once. The proponent of any project must “substantially start” the project during the life of the EC. The JGR EC was extended in 2009, bringing us to the October 12, 2014 deadline we just passed.

195 Legally Binding Commitments

Attached to the Environmental Certificate are 195 legally binding proponent commitments – read them all here. These conditions were agreed to by Glacier Resorts at the time they received the EC. Contained within this list of commitments is a subset of pre-construction commitments that must be satisfied prior to construction. At the beginning of the summer, we, and our partner groups the Jumbo Creek Conservation Society and the West Kootenay Eco Society, conducted an assessment of the pre-construction conditions. The results of our assessment were scathing – read them here – there was no way they had even come close to satisfying their pre-construction requirements. We shared these concerns with the Environmental Assessment Office and not long after, they began an Administrative Audit of the pre-construction commitments, the results of which were just released last week. Guess what? They were found to be in NON-COMPLIANCE on some of their pre-construction commitments. You can read the results here.

Substantially Starting the Jumbo Glacier Resort?
There was a flurry of activity at Jumbo this summer. In years past, claims were made that summer cat skiing was going to start on the Farnham Glacier (well, this was actually claimed two years in a row), but nothing ever happened. However, this year was different and that is because Glacier Resorts were facing the expiration of their EC and were under pressure to demonstrate that they have “substantially started” their $1 billion project.

So, did they achieve a “substantial start” to the project? Certainly not, but the final decision is at the discretion of BC’s Minister of Environment, Mary Polak, and isn’t expected for months. The problem: there isn’t a legal definition of what constitutes a “substantial start”. A recent court ruling in the Taku River Tlingit case generated the first case law on this and gives us a starting point, but much depends on the Minister’s discretion.

So, the Minister, who toured the Jumbo Valley this Saturday, October 11, will make the decision as to what Glacier Resorts has achieved. The facts on the ground are clear: they have poured a couple concrete slabs and they have poured a couple footings for the base of a ski lift. After 10 years, that’s it. The concrete slabs can’t be considered foundations. Why? Because they are slabs with holes in them, where footings will later be drilled and poured. Plans to go in and alter the slabs next year for use as a foundation by adding footings, mechanical conduits, and so on, do not count towards a determination of substantial start this year. In 10 years, this is all that has been achieved on the proposed $1 billion project and even that small amount of work was achieved while they weren’t in compliance with their Environmental Certificate. Two concrete footings for just one out of 20+ proposed lifts and two slabs to sit underneath buildings for a proposed 6000+ bed build-out. There isn’t much for the minister to consider!

Meanwhile, the JGR is the subject of two applications for judicial review in the BC Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. The West Kootenay Eco Society is challenging the constitutionality of creating a municipality with no residents and appointing a mayor and council to govern over it, and the Ktunaxa Nation Council are challenging the BC government approval of the project for violating their cultural values. Any decision made on the substantial start is likely to be challenged in court.

Buckle your seatbelts, folks, we still have a long and bumpy ride ahead. But I’m happy to say that there is hope on the horizon. In fact, I haven’t been feeling this positive about Jumbo in years. It’s a mess, but with Jumbo it always is.

By Robyn Duncan,