Local Democracy

How people were trumped by politics

It’s taken troubling new legislation and an abdication by regional government to remove the public voice from the Jumbo Glacier Resort debate.

The new legislation is outlined in the next section; the abdication of responsibility by regional government — the one governing body with the power to make a final decision on Jumbo based on public input — is outlined in the section following that.

Lastly, there is a section about how the CORE land-use planning process declared the Upper Jumbo Valley unfit for human settlement — and how that changed with the stroke of a pen.

A very troubling bill

In 2007, the B.C. provincial government (the BC Liberals) passed Bill 11 of the Local Government Act. The bill was ostensibly to allow resort area communities to access more financial support through the provincial hotel tax.

Buried within the bill, however, was this caveat:

SECTION 16: [Local Government Act, section 11]
“. . . in the case of an area that is not a mountain resort improvement district, authorizes the minister to recommend the incorporation of a new mountain resort municipality in specified circumstances even though a vote of the persons proposed to be incorporated has not been taken;”

Of course, in the case of the Upper Jumbo Valley, there are no human residents to vote.
In fact, should the Minister of Community and Rural Development recommend incorporation, the wild Upper Jumbo would be the first municipality in Canada to be incorporated with no residents.

Tragic rift between regional government and residents

Since 1991, when the proposal to build a mega-resort in the Jumbo Valley was put forth, there have been numerous measurements of public opinion.

Every one shows the majority of residents oppose the scheme.

In fact, during a 60-day period of public comment in 2004, the Environment Assessment Office (EAO) received 5,839 comments — and 91 per cent of them were opposed to the proposal.

On the other hand, since 1991 the proponent has “jumped through” a number of hoops — producing various environmental impact studies, flawed grizzly mitigation plans and master plan redesigns — in a long period of engagement with various ministries of the provincial government.

At no time, however, during this nearly two-decade period, has the proponent once applied — as was required — to rezone the land at the regional level.

• Rezoning was always a known requirement for final, public approval.
• Rezoning was the only requirement that would have placed the question of land use in the Upper Jumbo Valley to residents in a meaningful, decisive way. 
• Rezoning is the legal responsibility of the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK).
• Rezoning was what 8-out-of-15 RDEK directors washed their hands of when they voted in August, 2009 to allow the provincial government to decide if the Upper Jumbo Valley would become a mountain resort municipality.

Why did RDEK directors vote on the issue at all?

After all, the proponent hadn’t applied for rezoning, even though a previous minister of sustainable resource development, George Abbot, stated in 2005 that “the decision will be made by those closest to the project . . . (the Jumbo Glacier Resort will) not proceed without the approval of the RDEK.”

Outcome: No more requirement for public hearings on Jumbo

The vote came about because David Wilks — RDEK director and mayor of Sparwood in the Elk Valley — brought this motion forward on August 7, 2009:

“THAT the Board of Directors of the Regional District of East Kootenay requests that, upon the signing of the Master Development Agreement between the Province and Glacier Resorts Ltd., the Minister responsible designate the Jumbo Glacier Resort a Mountain Resort Municipality and that such governance arrangement provides for the resort to be governed by a council of local citizens, supported by a locally based advisory group that includes First Nations.”

The motion wasn’t a response to any request to the RDEK to rezone the resort site, because no request had been made.

RDEK rezoning would require public hearings, and, if the hearings proved the public majority was against the rezoning, the RDEK would have been free to deny rezoning — thereby denying final approval of the proposal.

Instead, the vote assured that, should the province deem Jumbo a new municipality with an appointed council, there would be no requirement for a public land use hearing to be conducted — ever.

The motion was moved forward by directors from the Elk Valley and central regions — communities far from Jumbo. Four out of five directors in the Columbia Valley — where the new mountain resort municipality would be — voted against the motion.

RDEK discussion about the vote

A few weeks before the motion was brought forward to the RDEK table, local MLA Bill Bennett (an on-the-record Jumbo resort supporter) met with RDEK directors in-camera.

Mike Sosnowski, Elk Valley Area A director, said before the August 7 vote: “After our meeting last month with our MLA, Minister Bennett, I was quite comfortable when he said the appointed people, the new council, would be local.”

However, Invermere director Gerry Taft, representing the closest community to the proposed resort, questioned whether a council appointed by the Province would indeed be representative of local people. “(This could be a) forever situation of an appointed council. What’s local — and what does it mean if they are appointed? Do we know what the implications are?”

Norman Walter, central region Area E director, said: “By declaring a mountain resort municipality is our desire, we’ve made our decision on this motion. We’ve already made the decision without going through the required process for rezoning. I think it is absolutely wrong. . .”

How CORE was misrepresented to defend the resort

During the Jumbo debate of 2009, RDEK directors Jim Ogilvie of Kimberley and David Wilks of Sparwood said — inaccurately — that the Commission on Resources and the Environment (CORE) had approved the Jumbo Glacier Resort.

The CORE process occurred in the early 1990s. It was a massive land-use planning project for the East Kootenay. Proponents of the Jumbo Glacier Resort took part, as did stakeholder groups from around the region, including First Nations, recreation user-groups, conservation groups and industry groups. These groups were given the opportunity to set the course for future land-use designations.

The CORE process did not identify the Jumbo Valley as suitable for resort development.

In fact, no final land use designation for the area was attributed by CORE.

However, stakeholders did agree on one thing: the area was not suitable for rural or urban human settlement.

It was a single planner, Steven Owen, who took the recommendations of CORE and turned them into the East Kootenay Land Use Plan. He wrote a compromise (Recommendation #75). If a resort was to be considered, there would have to be a provincial environmental assessment that included local input.

Local input never occurred as to whether the resort should go ahead or not.

The opportunities for local input so far have been during various stages of the environmental assessment process, which is not meant to answer the fundamental question about the Jumbo Glacier Resort: Should it go ahead or not?

B.C.’s environmental assessment process is NOT an approval process.

Its purpose is to show how a proposal could potentially proceed — if it were approved.

The Environmental Assessment Office has neither mandate nor opportunity to deny a proposal — no matter how inappropriate or unsustainable it may be.

What will happen now?

Any potential decision-making power by the local electorate has been effectively removed by both Bill 11 and the RDEK vote.

In the unlikely event that the Ministry of Community and Rural Development does not accept the task of creating Canada’s first municipality with a population of zero, there is no clear legal direction forward.
In any event, until the Province and the proponent sign a Master Development Agreement, the project will not move forward.