B.C. mountain resort has mayor but no voters in area home to grizzlies and goats

INVERMERE, B.C. – British Columbia’s newest mountain resort municipality now has a mayor and councillors but not a single voter in the area that’s home to grizzly bears and goats.

Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Bill Bennett said Tuesday cabinet has approved the incorporation of the southeastern B.C. community of Jumbo, a resort that’s been more than two decades in the planning but is also hotly opposed by First Nations and environmentalists.

Bennett appointed Greg Deck, Nancy Hugunin and Steve Ostrander as Jumbo’s first mayor and councillors for the municipality that expected to be operational by its Feb. 19, 2013 incorporation date.

The $450-million year-round ski resort is planned for the foot of Jumbo Mountain and Jumbo Glacier, 55 kilometres outside Invermere, in B.C.’s Purcell Mountains, about 250 kilometres west of Calgary.

The project, which was approved in March, has been on the books for more than two decades and the Regional District of East Kootenay requested incorporation almost four years ago.

However, the Ktunaxa First Nation opposed the development, saying it would be built on its sacred territory.

“We do not feel that all the issues around wildlife in that area will be adequately addressed from a perspective that the proposal of this size simply is intrusive,” said Kathryn Teneese, chairwoman of the Ktunaxa council.

The group, which has support from environmentalists and residents in Invermere, planned to file an application for a judicial review of the resort on Nov. 30.

The First Nation is also expected to hold a rally in downtown Cranbrook that day, followed by a march to the courthouse.

Robyn Duncan, spokeswoman for the environmental group Wildsight, said the province’s decision to incorporate the area doesn’t make sense.

“It puts into question the whole democratic process when we can have a hand-picked council govern over a newly created municipality that has no population and no infrastructure.”

Duncan said there’s no economic investment for the proposed development.

“I think people in British Columbia will start to ask some serious questions when they realize that they are now footing the bill of this development” in terms of salaries for people who’ve been appointed to municipal council, she said.

Grizzly bear biologists have said development of the large-scale development in the Jumbo Valley would severely impact grizzlies in the Purcell Mountains.

The government has said the Jumbo resort is projected to provide years of construction employment and create up 800 permanent full-time jobs.

However, an economic analysis commissioned by the Ktunaxa said that will not be the case.

“There is no basis to conclude there would be net benefit for the province of British Columbia if this resort is approved,” economist Marvin Shaffer said in his May 2011 report.

“The employment impact estimates are overly optimistic and do not recognize the extent to which tourism at Jumbo Glacier would divert visitors from other resorts. Nor do they consider where the workers would come from and what benefit that would offer British Columbians.”

Teneese said existing resorts are already having trouble filling service-type jobs such as lift operators because of fewer tourists resulting from the worldwide economic downturn.