Jumbo resort court ruling could take months

Judge mulling ‘substantially started’ decision that halted construction for proposed ski resort.

It could be months for a court decision to be delivered as part of the ongoing efforts to build a year-round ski resort in the southeastern corner of the province.

Arguments wrapped up last week in Vancouver Supreme Court between Glacier Resorts Ltd and the provincial government, as the resort development company is seeking to quash a government decision in 2015 that ground the project to a halt.

Mary Polak, then the Minister of Environment at the time, ruled that the project was not substantially started, which meant an Environmental Assessment Certificate expired and therefore stopping any and all development of the resort, which is located in the Jumbo Glacier valley near Invermere.

Glacier Resorts Ltd launched a challenge to the decision soon after Polak’s decision was released.

READ: Reaction pours in to Jumbo decision

Tom Oberti, vice president of Pheidias Group — the design consultants for the project — says the pending court ruling is important because it will provide clarity going forward.

“It’s the difference between a project that is 6,000 beds…or a project that would have to be done under the threshold of the Environmental Assessment Act, and that would mean a project that has 2,000 or less beds.

“So obviously there are implications there on what kind of project would be built.”

The resort full build-out plan includes 5,500 bed-units (plus 750 beds for staff accommodations) in a 110-hectare resort base area that could include 20-23 ski lifts.

Glacier Resorts Ltd. argues in their court filing that the province demanded a standart that was impossible to obtain, given regulatory and physical constrants.

Local environmental groups, including Wildsight and the Jumbo Creek Conservation Society successfully gained intervenor status in May.

The two groups are concerned about the substantially started decision being quashed, but also with the decision itself and allege that some of the construction at the resort site was in non-compliance, according to their court filing.

“While the Decision (sic) found that the project had not substantially started, the applicants are concerned that these proceedings could lead to the Court quashing the decision, allowing the project to proceed nearly 14 years after the issuance of the EAC,” reads the filing on behalf of Jumbo Creek Conservation Society and Wildsight.

“Alternatively, if the Decision is upheld on the basis of an overly generous interpretation of the [Environmental Assessment] Act, it would set a bad precedent that could undermine the effectiveness of the environmental assessment regime and allow other multi-phased projects to circumvent deadlines by obtaining an indefinite right to proceed based on minimal construction.”

Robyn Duncan, the executive director for Wildsight, says it was important for both groups to intervene into the case.

“I think we’ve been working on this issue for a couple of decades now. It was such a momentous decision to see the environmental certificate cancelled when it was the right decision,” Duncan said. “And to be able to intervene in that court case and support that decision meant a lot to us; to be able to carry those facts forward and add argument to that case.”

The issue of building a resort in the area dates back almost 30 years.

Running parallel to the substantially started decision was a court challenge from the Ktunaxa Nation Council, which argued that they were not adequately consulted by the province when the project’s Master Development Plan was approved.

That court dispute went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which dismissed their appeal.

READ: Supreme Court of Canada dismisses Ktunaxa appeal

While the Ktunaxa said they were not adequately consulted by the province, they also argued that the construction of a resort would violate their religious freedoms, as the area — known as Qat’muk — is in a spiritually sensitive area home to the Grizzly Bear Spirit.

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