There’s an elephant in the room and it’s about to roll over. Appropriately it is called Jumbo.
Twenty years ago, a proposal was made to build a new ski resort on a glacier atop Jumbo Mountain, in the East Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia. Over the decades, it has slowly navigated the arduous regulatory process and now needs only final approval from the province.
If the Jumbo Glacier Resort project gets approval this month, as some anticipate, it could present Premier Christy Clark with something she hasn’t had to deal with yet – an international environmental fight supported by celebrities such as hockey legend Scott Niedermayer and singer Bruce Cockburn. Both of them are part of a campaign to keep the wilderness area undeveloped.
Ms. Clark’s enthusiastic promotion of mines and pipelines in B.C. has already set her on a collision course with environmental groups and first nations. But it is one thing for a government to promote vital resource developments that can produce much needed jobs and taxes – and quite another to back a luxurious ski resort that doesn’t make much economic sense.
With the European and U.S. economies in crisis, does Ms. Clark really want to stand up and defend the building of a new resort, knowing it will compete with existing resorts for an already dwindling international tourism market?
Certainly there is a demand in China for B.C. coal. But is Jumbo really going to attract more foreign tourists if Whistler can’t?
A new economic analysis by Marvin Shaffer & Associates Ltd., suggests not.
The report, obtained by The Globe and Mail, is to be released Monday by the Ktunaxa band, which commissioned the study in preparation for a possible court challenge should the government approve Jumbo.
The report challenges the argument that the project is in the public interest because of the economic benefits it offers.
“While there would be some incremental tax revenues due to the project, there would be incremental costs. In-migration and increased activity in the region would give rise to increased local and provincial government health care and other service costs. There would also be significant road upgrade and maintenance costs. … The net impact on government is unclear. There is no basis to conclude there would be any net benefit,” states the report.
The study also looks at the dwindling number of international ski tourists coming to B.C. and concludes that existing resorts can only be hurt by the addition of a new one.
“Spending by local and regional visitors at Jumbo Glacier would leave less disposable income to spend at other resorts or for other goods and services. Very little of their spending would be incremental to the region, province and country as a whole,” states the report.
It notes that from 2006 to 2010, the number of overnight visitors coming to B.C. has fallen by 11 per cent overall, including declines of 10 per cent from the U.K., 14 per cent from the U.S. and 41 per cent from Japan.
Luckily for Whistler and other resorts, local skier visits have picked up over that period – but only by 1.1 per cent, which is hardly enough to fill the rooms left vacant by international tourists.
“These trends raise considerable doubt with respect to the market assumptions … set out in the Jumbo Glacier master plan,” states the Shaffer analysis.
The project proposal claims Jumbo will draw 70,000 winter skier visits in the first year of operation, followed by average annual growth rates of 19 per cent through year five, and 11 per cent through to year 20.
When the provincial environmental assessment office approved the project in 1998 it accepted those projected growth rates as realistic. It sure doesn’t seem that way now.
And that puts Ms. Clark in a tough spot. If she approves Jumbo, she will have to sell voters on a ski resort that tourism statistics show the world doesn’t want and the province doesn’t need.