By Annalee Grant
Black Press staff
After a turbulent and convoluted two decades, the proponents of a proposed year-round ski resort in the Purcells finally got the government go-ahead to pursue their project.
The B.C. government announced in Victoria Tuesday afternoon that it had signed the master development agreement for the Jumbo Glacier Resort earlier in the morning.
Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett joined Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson to make the announcement at a press conference in the provincial capital.
“The approval of the Master Development Agreement allows the project to proceed,” Thomson said adding that the agreement needed a decision after 22 years.
“I recognize and respect that there are differing views,” he said. “After more than 20 years, it’s time for a decision.”
With the approval of the agreement, the proponents, Glacier Resorts Limited, will have to follow through on 195 commitments under a Environmental Assessment Act review (from 2005), and there will be further permits to be applied for.
Thomson said there had been much consultation with the local Ktunaxa, and they have been fully informed on the process.
“We made sure the Ktunaxa had the final package on which the decision would be made,” he said. “We’ve reached out to them and told them we want to continue to keep the lines of communication open.”
Bennett spoke to the ongoing process as well, saying he became interested in the project around the 2005 election.
“It’s been a long road,” he said.
The project had many towns and citizens in Bennett’s and surrounding ridings split – and it was time to move on.
“Our communities over the past 25 years have been divided over this controversy,” Bennett said. “It’s divided our communities and we want it over.”
Both Thomson and Bennett agreed the debate may not be over yet, despite the decision at the provincial level.
“There will continue to be concern,” Thomson admitted.
Bennett and Thomson responded to criticism from Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald, who accused the government of being disrespectful to local residents by announcing the decision in Victoria, instead of locally.
“This is a provincial decision,” Thomson clarified. “This is certainly no disrespect to the people of the Kootenays.”
Bennett said holding a press conference or announcement in the Kootenays would have further churned up the opponents and proponents.
“I think that what you would have ended up with is a thousand people on either side of the street,” he said, adding that Victoria acted as a neutral site.
Thomson said the official decision was in the works for the past few weeks, but it wasn’t until last week that they decided to approve the project.
As for when the project could officially break ground, Thomson said there will be a rush to get things moving before the Environmental Assessment expires.
“Substantial work is underway before the expiry of the Environmental Assessment Certificate in 2014,” he said.
Bennett said the project changed over the years, and so did the amount of opposition.
“People became much more concerned about the environment,” he said.
He also cited the opponents’ work over the years to keep the project stalled in the planning process.
“They started out as a very small group,” Bennett said. “They enlisted the support of some very sophisticated, well-funded organizations that extended the fight against the project internationally by the use of the internet.
“They managed over the years to recognize places in the progress of this file where they could stop it – and they were masters at delay. They managed to delay it for 22 years.”
For that, Bennett gives the opponents kudos.
“I give them all kinds of credit for their skillfulness,” he said.
Thomson said the new resort will only strengthen the offering of local resorts, and will allow skiers to experience many different ski hills in one visit.
“It helps build the overall cluster of experience and capacity in the area,” he said. “It is our view that the other resorts in the area will benefit from having this additional experience there.”
The BC Chamber of Commerce applauded the decision. Click here for more.