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B.C.'s Jumbo Glacier Resort approval revives its opponents

Jumbo Glacier. The Jumbo Glacier ski resort, which is estimated to cost up to $900-million over at least 20 years, could be North America’s only year-round glacier based ski resort

Trevor Florence/Trevor Florence

Opponents vow no letup in their long fight against the bold but contentious plan to build a luxury, glacier-based ski resort in the Kootenays, despite the province's final approval of the project.

"It is not our intention to take this decision at face value," declared Kathryn Teneese, executive chair of the Ktunaxa Nation Council, which claims the area proposed for the $900-million Jumbo Glacier Resort is part of its traditional territory. "We will be challenging this with whatever it takes."

Asked whether Tuesday's decision could mean native blockades, Ms. Teneese replied: "I can't rule out anything."

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Environmentalists remain equally adamant.

"This is really unfortunate and a very sad day, but now the fun starts, I guess," said Robyn Duncan, program manager of the Kootenay environmental organization, Wildsight.

"I don't think this is the end of the process in any way. It's just one more step. I simply don't think the people of the Kootenays will let this move forward."

The Jumbo resort has attracted bitter controversy since the plan to build a year-round resort amid a group of glaciers in the Purcell Mountains was first put forward 20 years ago.

The 104-hectare resort is destined for the spectacular Jumbo Valley, about 55 kilometres west of Invermere. The plan calls for two hotels and 1,360 residential units with 6,250 beds. According to proponents, the development, which includes 23 lifts and a 3,000-metre-high gondola, will attract up to 700,000 visitors a year and provide 750 permanent jobs.

At times, opposition and support for the project have seemed evenly split.

While the East Kootenay regional district voted to endorse the concept of a resort municipality, the motion carried by only 8-7.

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The Ktunaxa First Nation is against the resort, but the nearby Shuswap Indian Band, which also claims the territory where the project is to be built, has signed an economic-benefit pact with the developers.

The two NDP MLAS in the Kootenay region are firmly opposed to Jumbo. At the same time, no one has been more outspoken in favour of it than Liberal MLA for Kootenay East, Bill Bennett.

Environmentalists charge the Jumbo development will damage pristine wilderness and severely harm wildlife in the area, particularly a fragile population of grizzly bears.

Supporters point to the widespread economic benefits of the resort, a modest community about one-10th the size of Whistler, but the only high-level glacier ski resort in North America.

Although Jumbo received its environmental-assessment certificate in 2004 and its resort master plan was approved by the province in 2007, a final green light appeared perpetually on amber.

Monday, Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Minister Steve Thomson finally ended the uncertainty.

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In an interview, Mr. Thomson said this was his biggest decision since taking over the portfolio a year ago.

"After 20 years, it was time to make a decision, time to provide that certainty to allow that project to proceed," he said, pointing to the fact that Jumbo developers had cleared all the necessary hurdles, including obligations to mitigate potential problems.

"I respect there are different views, but this is a project that has the potential to make a significant economic impact and provide jobs for that region. I know that's why many people support it."

Grant Costello, senior vice-president of Jumbo Glacier Resort, had a hard time believing the government had actually made a ruling.

"This thing has been imminent for eight years, so when it happens, you're a bit floored by the unexpected. I'm actually still a bit tense," he said.

Mr. Costello played down opposition to the resort. "It's not like there are thousands of [opponents] There are dozens, maybe hundreds.

"We have followed and adhered to the process set out by the province. So we are in the right, and I have no guilty pangs whatsoever."

He said the resort, with its access to year-round, glacier skiing, will be unique in North America, impervious to economic downturns.

Ms. Teneese of the Ktunaxa, however, said her people will not accept a project that would do "irreparable damage to our connection to a place that has been important to us for centuries.

"It's not about money. Our culture is not for sale," she said. "There is going to be a great deal of anger in our community, because we have been consistently opposed to this from the beginning."

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