A spokesperson with the main consulting company behind a proposed ski resort in the Jumbo glacier valley region still hopes to work with the Ktunaxa Nation following a ruling in their favour from the Supreme Court of Canada last week.
Tom Oberti, vice president of Pheidias Group, the lead consultants on the project, says he wasn’t too surprised by the Supreme Court ruling, considering the lower courts, the BC Supreme Court and the Appeal Court, had also sided with the provincial government.
“We’re very happy with the ruling and I think it has implications for BC that go beyond Jumbo in that it outlines the statutory responsibilities of ministers in dealing with Crown land,” said Oberti.
“Also, one of the reasons we’re happy and relieved is because it puts an end to a three-year waiting period for this process to unfold. Obviously that’s caused a significant delay to anything related to this project.”
The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an appeal by the Ktunaxa Nation, who were arguing that they were not adequately consulted when the BC government approved a resort development plan west of Invermere.
Couched within their appeal was an argument that the development of a ski resort would violate their religious freedoms, as the Ktunaxa believe the area, which is known as Qat’muk, holds significant spiritual meaning.
While all nine Supreme Court justices ruled that the provincial government had adequately consulted with the Ktunaxa, two of those justices dissented on the religious argument, noting that the Ktunaxa religious rights would be infringed by development in the area.
— Supreme Court Canada (@SCC_eng) November 2, 2017
Despite the ruling from the court, Oberti hopes to continue finding ways to work with the Ktunaxa to move the resort project forward.
“We’ve never withdrawn the offers that were on the table to accommodate the Ktunaxa and there’s no reason to withdraw them at this time,” said Oberti. “Our goal is to try to accommodate them in any way possible. The challenge, as the Supreme Court justices noted, is that their position is very much an all-or-nothing position.
“…As consultants, we work with a lot of First Nations, and we have very good relationships with a lot of First Nations and we’re committed to being conciliatory, so we want to work with the Ktunaxa, we’re willing to work with the Ktunaxa and we’re hoping that the beauty of the project can bring people together. There’s no animosity there, in terms of wanting to work together in the future.”
Alongside the litigation that has been winding through the BC Supreme Court and Appeal Court, there is also government oversight of the project.
The proponents, Glacier Resorts Ltd, were granted an Environmental Assessment Certificate (EAC), which was required if the project was to be fully realized at its full build-out. But that certificate expired in 2015 after Mary Polak, then the provincial Minister of Environment, determined that the project had not been substantially started after construction had been halted because two structures were being built in an avalanche zone.
Glacier Resorts Ltd is currently in the process of applying for a judicial review of Polak’s decision.
However, even without the EAC, the project can still move forward, Oberti said.
The proponent is currently seeking a judicial review of Polak’s substantially-started decision that led to the expiration of the EAC. The EAC is required for the full build-out of the resort, which includes 6,500 beds, 23 ski lifts and a 3,000-metre high gondola.
However, a scaled down version of the resort at under 2,000 beds can be built without the EAC permit.
Oberti adds that resort developers aren’t obligated to build out their full plans, noting that resorts such as Sun Peaks (28,000 beds) and Kicking Horse (20,000 beds) are only at 8,000 and 2,000 beds respectively.
“There’s no obligation to build out an entire approved master plan,” Oberti said. “So as long as we stay under this threshold, it doesn’t require the environmental assessment certificate.
The one thing that is required is that all the environmental conditions of the certificate have to be followed.”
And as for whether or not the development of a resort moves forward, the answer is obvious to Oberti.
“They’ve gone this far and spent an incredible amount of money on it, in terms of the approval process and the legal fees, so the commitment is certainly there,” he said. “There’s tremendous value in the project, it’s a tremendous mountain, but it’s very difficult to get approval for any resort of this type in British Columbia.”