Still Unresolved, Saga of Jumbo Glacier Resort Heads Back to Canadian Court

Jumbo Glacier on Canada Day (Source: Lucas Jmieff/ Facebook Wildsight).

Ever since it was first proposed in 1991, the development of the Jumbo Glacier Resort in British Columbia, Canada, has drawn fierce opposition for its threat to the surrounding ecosystem and indigenous population. Now a recent move by developers in the glacier-rich region has added a new twist to the ongoing saga. Following a three-year hiatus, the developers have decided to take the case back to court to overturn the government’s 2015 decision not to renew their environmental assessment certificate, a decision that effectively put the project on ice.

The idea for a mega-resort at Jumbo Glacier was originally launched by Oberto Oberti, an Italian-born, Vancouver-based architect, and Grant Costello, a Canadian ski coach. Costello had long dreamed of opening a year-round, high-altitude ski training center in North America to rival those in Europe. The remote land along the east Kootenay Mountains in southeastern B.C. seems like a prime location, covered in 400 inches of cold snow every winter and boasting glaciers and spectacular landscapes. However, it also serves as a critical grizzly bear habitat and is considered sacred to the Ktunaxa First Nation.

The construction of the proposed resort includes a 3,419-meter high lift service, 6,000-bed lodge, and roads to make Jumbo Glacier accessible to tourists. The developers promised the mega-resort would serve as an economic source to the local communities, but the project has faced ongoing resistance from environmental groups like Wildsight concerned about the region’s wildlife habitat, as well as locals who feel there are already several ski hills in the area.

There has been an intense debate since 1991 within the provincial government on whether commercial activities should be allowed at Jumbo Glacier. By the end of 1994, the provincial government made a decision, designating the area as a special management area, a designation which generally would not allow commercial development such as a ski resort. However, the decision did in fact make a provision for the proposed resort subject to the provincial Environmental Assessment Act. The law meant any major project of large scale like the Jumbo Glacier Resort would need to pass an environmental impact assessment conducted by the provincial Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) in order to gain an Environmental Assessment Certificate (EAC) and conduct actual construction activities.

It took the EAO nine years to proceed with their assessment and exhaustive consultations. Withstanding environmental campaigns against the resort and protracted court battles between resort proponents and opponents, the EAO of the B.C. government finally granted a certificate in 2005 with 195 conditions to mitigate the negative impact of the project on the environment. However, by 2015, only two concrete pads had been built on the site. Thus, the B.C. government considered the project to have “not substantially started” and the certificate was set to expire.

“Jumbo Wild for our children and their children and their children!” (Source: Patty Kolesnichenko/Facebook Wildsight).

But the controversy is far from over. As Robyn Duncan, executive director of Wildsight and the lead of the two-decade environmental campaign against the resort, Jumbo Wild, wrote to GlacierHub, “The developers remain committed to trying to push forward this ill-proposed resort. Challenging the decision that canceled their environmental certificate was one of the only avenues to continue the fight.”

In the developers’ 2017 petition to overturn the government’s 2015 decision, they argue that the construction delays were derived from various factors outside of their control, such as blockades by environmentalists and political concerns from then provincial Environment Minister Mary Polak. The current minister, George Heyman, is expected to defend the government’s 2015 decision in court.

Wildsight and the Jumbo Creek Conservation Society were granted intervenor status in the case in May, which allows the organizations to join the ongoing litigation without permission from the original litigants. “If built, the Jumbo Glacier Resort would fragment a critical section of one of North America’s most important wildlife corridors. Grizzlies depend on this connected habitat to maintain healthy populations regionally and even continentally,” Duncan said.

The law firm that represents them, Ecojustice, said in an interview, “This assessment [2005] that it’s based on is now ten years out of date. Things have moved on, scientific understanding of the impacts that this project would have on grizzly bears, for example, has moved on. That’s why it’s really important that the courts uphold the law and prevent this project from going ahead based on outdated information.”

The case was heard during the last week of June by the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, but it could take months for the court to reach a decision. Several legal scholars in Canada told GlacierHub they prefer not to speak on the case until the matter has concluded in court.

In 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada sided with developers on a separate but relevant case in which the Ktunaxa First Nation claimed a land use change would infringe on their right to freedom of religion. The ruling concluded that the Ktunaxa have a right to their belief that the Grizzly Bear Spirit inhabits Jumbo Glacier and that the spirit would be driven away in the event of permanent development, but that the government is “not required to protect the presence of Grizzly Bear Spirit itself in order to preserve the right to freedom of religion.” There were divided opinions among the judges in the case. Seven judges thought the Ktunaxa did not sufficiently establish that the area is a sacred site to them and that the land should be at the public disposal instead of indigenous territory. Two other justices found that constitutional religious rights could be reasonably infringed in the public interest and that the Ktunaxa should not be granted exclusive ownership over the land. The developers may use this recent court decision in their future legal arguments to justify the legality of the resort.

Meanwhile, Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality, an administrative jurisdiction established in 2012 for the planned resort, remains business as usual, releasing its annual report in late June. The municipality, with no development, population or tax revenues, has received a $855,299 grant from the B.C. government. The possible re-appointment of the municipality major, without a vote, has also gained harsh critics for being undemocratic.

Despite some negative signs in favor of the resort, Duncan told GlacierHub that she remains hopeful. “The Jumbo Wild campaign has been going strong for 26 years. There have been many ups and downs within those years, and I am confident that whatever comes our way, the people of the Kootenays will continue to rally against this ill-proposed resort that threatens grizzly bear habitat and the sacred territory of the Ktunaxa Nation,” she said.

GlacierHub News Report 04-19-18

GlacierHub News Report 04-19-18


The GlacierHub News Report is a bi-monthly video news report that features some of our website’s top stories. This week, GlacierHub news is featuring recent stories on sea level rise, an ancient tunic, an avalanche that took place in Russia, and even the 100th year anniversary of a world famous mint.

This week’s news report features:

Future Sea-Level Rise and the Paris Agreement

By: Andrew Angle

Summary: The goal of Paris Agreement is to hold global temperature rise to well below two degrees Celsius. However, any rise in temperatures means sea-level rise will occur to some extent. A recent study in Nature Communications examined the implications of the Paris Agreement for future sea-level rise, finding that if the current country contributions are met in full, sea-levels would rise between 1.05 and 1.23 meters.

Read more here.

Reconstructing Norway’s Oldest Garment: the Tunic of Lendbreen

By: Natalie Belew

Summary: In 2011, archaeologists came across a crumpled piece of cloth in the ice of Lendbreen Glacier. When examined, it turned out to be an incredibly well-preserved 1,700-year-old tunic that became the oldest piece of clothing found in Norway. Now it has been reconstructed, and a recent study documented the process. Starting this summer, the original Lendbreen tunic will be on display alongside one its reconstructions at the Norwegian Mountain Center, while the other will be part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo.

Read more here.

Avalanche Strikes Near Russian Glacier

By: Jade Payne

Summary: An avalanche struck at a ski resort on the slopes of Mount Elbrus in the Russian Caucasus on March 24. The trigger, in this case, was the accumulation of meltwater, which made the snow heavier and more prone to falling. The snow was also tinted a rust-like color. Stanislav Kutuzov, head of the Department of Glaciology at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, told GlacierHub that the “atmospheric front of March 22 to 24 brought large amounts of precipitation together with dust from the Libyan desert.” The dust, from North Africa, reached the Caucasus Mountains on March 23, one day before the avalanche. The avalanche did not cause any deaths or injuries, but it did cover at least a dozen cars that stood in its path.

Read more here.

Fox’s Glacier Mints Celebrates its 100th Anniversary

By: Sabrina Ho Yen Yin

Summary: This month, Fox’s Glacier Mints, a famous candy brand from the United Kingdom, is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Making use of the similarities between glaciers and mints as refreshing and cool, we look back at the company’s clever use of the imagery of glaciers in marketing their transparent mints. The mascot for the candy is Peppy, a polar bear that is well-recognized by the brand’s lovers. Peppy has appeared in various television commercials with a fox interacting in glacier settings, British humor-style.

Read more here.

Video Credits:

Presenters: Brian Poe Llamanzares, Angela Soriano

Video Editor: Brian Poe Llamanzares

Writer: Brian Poe Llamanzares

News Intro: YouTube

Music: iMovie

Controversy Over Resort in Jumbo Valley

After two decades, a proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort in the East Kootenays of British Columbia continues to be controversial among local communities. Now, a documentary about the campaign against the resort highlights the problems the resort could pose to the mountainous landscape.

When the Jumbo Glacier Resort was originally proposed in the 1990s, it was approved under the Environmental Assessment Act of the Province of British Columbia. The resort would feature lifts up to 3,419 metres (11,217 feet) and more than 6,000 beds. It would be the only ski resort in North America to be open year round.

For the fifteen companies behind the project, the resort could rake tens of millions of dollars into the region annually. But many people in local communities think that the project would be a disaster.There are already a number of ski resorts in the nearby mountains, providing opportunities to participate in the sport.

“The problem runs deeper than environmental concerns: there’s a real sense that the Jumbo resort will rip the heart from one of the most cherished wilderness areas in the East Kootenays,” Andrew Findlay, a Canadian journalist, wrote in a blog post. Opponents of the project say that it would desecrate indigenous lands  occupied by First Nations long before European settlement, but the issue is complex. The Shuswap First Nations Band, the community that lives closest to the glacier, approved the project for the economic opportunities it could bring, while the Ktunaxa First Nation is against the idea. For the Ktunaxa people, the resort would tear a hole in the middle of grizzly bear territory. Grizzly bears, who hold spiritual significance for the Ktunaxa, are threatened. Environmentalists are also concerned about the effects a large resort would have on the species. Individual bears need as much as 1,000 square kilometers of range, but the resort would fragment that range for many bears.

Environmentalists, First Nations, local communities and skiers say they will continue to fight against the Jumbo Glacier Resort. Last year, Canada’s Environment Minister Mary Polak said the  project had not sufficiently advanced. Glacier Resorts, Ltd., the company behind the project, will have to apply for a new environmental certificate in order to continue, she added.

The announcement was a victory for the 90 percent of people from the area who oppose the project. For now, they can continue to visit the Jumbo Glacier — relatively free of human development.

“In the midst of Jumbo you feel like a really small person,” said Leah Evans, a skier who has visited the Jumbo Glacier since she was 14, in the Jumbo Wild documentary. “When you tune into that silence, you become part of the landscape. It’s like a part of you is waking up.”

Watch the trailer here:

Jumbo Wild from Patagonia on Vimeo.