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Singer Cockburn joins fight against glacier resort

Bruce Cockburn admits he hasn't had the chance to explore the Jumbo Valley, tucked amid the peaks and glaciers of the Purcell Mountain Range in southeastern B.C.

But the singer-guitarist didn't hesitate when a friend asked him to play at a benefit to support a group fighting the planned Jumbo Glacier Resort, which has been generating controversy since it was proposed in 1991 and dragged through an approval process that has moved at its own glacial pace.

"I can't see any kind of logic to this," Mr. Cockburn said recently in a telephone interview from Ontario. "You're going to build a 6,500-bed resort on a melting glacier at a cost of millions or billions ... a huge investment going into this resort at a time when the viability is draining out of ski resorts across the continent."

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Mr. Cockburn is scheduled to perform tonight at a sold-out JumboWild benefit concert in the one-time gold rush town of Fort Steele. He was asked to perform by renowned photographer Pat Morrow, who has a home in the Kootenays and first met Mr. Cockburn on a trek in Nepal.

The JumboWild campaign is run by Wildsight, a Kimberley-based conservation group that for years has spearheaded anti-resort activities, including an eight-week blockade near Jumbo Glacier during the summer.

That blockade, set up to protest against the building of an access road near the Farnham Glacier, came down in late September after Glacier Resorts Ltd. stopped road-related work.

Glacier Resorts is the Vancouver-based company behind the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort, which would shuttle skiers year-round to several glaciers and include accommodation for 6,200 people. (An earlier proposal called for more units.)

In lending his voice to the anti-Jumbo chorus, Mr. Cockburn is joining NHL defenceman Scott Niedermayer, who spent summers in the Cranbrook area as a boy and last year agreed to be a public face for the JumboWild campaign.

Mr. Cockburn, whose music is known for an activist bent, will also be wading into what has become a bitter fight over land-use planning and control.

The battle has a complex history and features numerous players, including Indian bands, conservation groups and local and provincial governments. The Jumbo resort passed a provincial environmental review in 2004, when the province said ultimate approval for the project would be up to the region.

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Glacier Resorts is now working on a final development plan for the resort, which had an initial cost estimate of $450-million but is now in the neighbourhood of $1-billion.

The developer has to strike agreements with local native bands before the project can go ahead, Glacier Resorts vice-president Grant Costello said yesterday.

Also brewing is the question of who will call the shots: Bill 11, passed last year, gives the province the right to create a resort municipality without input from the regional district.

Jumbo opponents, including Wildsight, want the decisions to remain in local hands.

The resort is controversial because it would be in the midst of grizzly territory and next to the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Park. Opponents have also slammed the proposal as folly in the face of climate change. Glacier Resorts says the project makes economic and environmental sense and argues the area is far from pristine.

Mr. Cockburn isn't buying it. The environmental cost, and the cost to taxpayers through infrastructure such as roads and power, are too great, he said.

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"To me it looks like a way to get a huge amount of money out of the B.C. taxpayer."

Tourism Minister Bill Bennett was not immediately available to comment on the status of the project.

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