Concerns about the creation of a municipality without citizens, in the Jumbo Valley west of Invermere, prompted a lively hour-long debate June 8 at the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) board room.
RDEK Electoral Area G director Gerry Wilkie forwarded a motion for the board to rescind Resolution 40854 (2009), which asked the province to designate the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort as a Mountain Resort Municipality, “to be governed by a council of local citizens, supported by a locally-based advisory group that includes First Nations.”
“In my personal opinion this decision was unfortunate because it has eliminated the opportunity for public participation in what would have otherwise been a land use and rezoning decision of the RDEK board,” Wilkie stated in a letter to the board requesting support for two motions.
The second motion asked “that the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development consult with UBCM (Union of B.C. Municipalities), First Nations and the RDEK prior to the creation of a mountain resort municipality at Jumbo.”
Following one of the lengthier discussions in recent history at the Cranbrook board room, the first motion was narrowly defeated while the second passed.
The motion to rescind Resolution 40854 was knocked aside in an eight-to-seven vote, while the board begrudgingly carried the motion, to ask the province to consult with the UBCM, First Nations and RDEK, with a 12 to three vote.
While Wilkie presented the motions, it was District of Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft who led the charge to rescind the 2009 motion and to establish adequate consultation requirements for the proposed $1 billion ski resort proposal for the upper Jumbo Creek Valley, 55 km west of Invermere.
Leading the charge to maintain the status quo established in 2009 was Electoral Area A director Mike Sosnowski and Village of Radium Hot Springs Mayor Dee Conklin.
The arguments were many and the deeply entrenched sides that continue to wage the ideological war over 5,925 hectares of high country wilderness fired familiar salvos, as board chair, Electoral Area C director Rob Gay allowed the lengthy discussion.
“It’s a project from the ‘70s that got proposed in the ‘90s and it has taken 20 years to
get approved. A lot of things have changed in the market in the last 20 years and we all know there is going to be changes and amendments to that (master development plan). To me, as important as the initial zoning is for the Jumbo Valley, what’s even more important is the amendments and changes to that zoning in the future,” Taft stated to the board.
“Every development that I’ve ever seen, even the best planned developments, come back for amendments and changes. Markets change, realities change when you go to the land, ownership changes over projects; changes are always happening. OCPs (official community plans) are living, breathing documents that need to be changed and updated. To suggest that this master plan is so brilliant and so amazing that after 20 years of process it’s going to stay the way it is forever, is crazy – absolutely ridiculous!” Taft suggested, adding, “So as controversial as the initial land use decision is, what’s really, really crucial in my mind is the amendments and changes to that master plan and the future land uses that will come forward. And that’s why I think it is so important that you have elected people who are accountable and represent the population that are directly affected in the Columbia Valley, that are able to look at those amendments and changes and able to have a public process that involves public hearings, and input from residents and property owners and people who are affected, so if there are changes made – when there are changes made – there is a real process that can be followed and things just aren’t rubber stamped.”
Taft said he is worried about the region supporting the concept of a municipality when so many questions remain unanswered.
“Personally, I think that taking a position before having all the answers, taking a position of being in favour of a resort municipality before knowing term, length, how it works, what kind of powers it has… that’s like signing a contract before you read it. It’s not good advice. Your power to negotiate a contract once you sign it is zero – you don’t have any power anymore, so let’s revoke this. Then let’s negotiate with the province, let’s find out what it is first. Whether you agree the decision should be made by a appointed people – Victoria appoints on the recommendation of the developer, personally I think it’s a really bad idea – even if you think that is a good model, let’s at least find out more about the model. Because even Mr. (Bill) Bennett, Miss (Ida) Chong, even the cabinet ministers right now don’t know what the model looks like. You ask them direct questions about whether there is going to be a seat at this table, about how they’re going to deal with the Municipal Finance Authority; you ask them direct questions, they don’t have answers! They don’t know. So why would we be supporting something that isn’t even designed yet? We don’t even know what it will look like.”
The second term mayor of the municipality closest to the proposed 6,250 bed resort continued: “I don’t believe that this municipality concept at Jumbo is about a municipality. I don’t believe that for a second it’s about providing services, or ever functioning like a normal village or ever having an elected council. In my mind it is a tool in order to circumvent the promise that was made in the Environmental Assessment approval. One of the key conditions in the Environmental Assessment approval – number six out of 116 conditions – ‘the proponent must obtain appropriate zoning and other necessary approvals for the project from the Regional District of East Kootenay prior to commencement of the project.’ And then Minister George Abbott at the time said, ‘government recognizes that there is strongly held views. The final decision will be made in the hands of those closest to the project. Those who will benefit most directly and most directly understand the cost will have the final say. The project will not be able to proceed without the approval of the regional district,’” Taft said.
“This whole concept is about getting zoning,” he said, “and then disbanding this thing as fast as possible, in my opinion. But even if this really is about creating the Village of Jumbo, my long-term vision, my concept of the Columbia Valley does not have a village in Jumbo, a village in Panorama and one in Brisco and Spillimacheen and Windermere and Fairmont. We don’t need 20 little tiny villages scattered throughout the Columbia Valley. We’ve been working for years to talk about how to even potentially have less municipalities in the Columbia Valley and how to function more as a region. Not create more little islands all over the place. On many levels, whether it is an initial tool just to rubber stamp zoning or whether it really is about creating a municipality in Jumbo forever, I think it’s a bad idea. And I think that our power to negotiate with the province, to find out what this is really about is non-existent if we have a resolution on the books saying we support. We don’t know what it is. How can we support it?”
Electoral Area F director Wendy Booth admitted she believes there “are several
unanswered questions and details.” However, having said that I have to say one of the first things I learned when I came to this board was that when we as a board make decisions, whether we support the board decision or not, we stick behind it. We’ve all experienced that drag effect from time to time but those are the decisions of the board. I think that rescinding the 2009 resolution serves no purpose.”
The province is moving on the 2009 resolution, she said, adding she doesn’t think it is appropriate for the region to “flip flop back and forth and I don’t think it really serves a purpose.”
Sosnowski, who voted against both motions, said he opposes the motion for the same reason he supported the 2009 resolution.
“I was elected by constituents to look after Area A” and if Jumbo hit the RDEK legislative stream “nothing would be done in our region” beyond Jumbo, he said. Staff time would be monopolized, extra staff would have to be hired, meaning a cost incurred by the regional taxpayers and “it would just flood us,” he said.
Conklin, who voted against Wilkie’s motions, said she believes “a number” of the questions posed by Taft have been answered by “the letters patent.”
Wilkie reminded board members that “this is not about the project – this is about governance. And I feel really strongly that we have to be consulted. I believe First Nations and local governance should be consulted along with the regional district.”
Bill 41 “which this particular legislation is tied to is a very, very serious piece of legislation. I don’t really see the difficulty in rescinding the motion.”
The regional board has rescinded motions and legislation before, he said, noting that in 1996 a motion was made to support a resort municipality concept and in 2005 the board rescinded it. “In 2006, precisely the same motion we are talking about rescinding was put forward and was defeated by this board. It was the same motion that was brought forward in 2009, and most of us were here, and that motion was then supported by the bare majority of eight to seven.”
City of Kimberley Mayor Ron McRae said he was prepared to support Wilkie’s first motion “primarily because I think if we don’t support it that it will weaken the second resolution.” McRae voted in favour of both motions.
Village of Canal Flats Mayor Ute Juras also voted in support of both motions. She suggested Glacier Resort Ltd. has shown strategy by delaying processes on purpose, inorder to garner enough board support.
“He waited, in my mind, until he had a sufficient board around this table that would support the motion to go forward and return this to the government. And that’s why he never came before this board, because we all know after this motion (resolution) was passed, he didn’t have to. I’m strongly supporting this motion,” she stated.
Electoral Area B director Heath Slee, who voted against rescinding but supported the consultation motion, asked City of Cranbrook director Bob Whetham, the former chief planner with the RDEK, his views.
“We have to try to address the issue as best we can,” Whetham began, pointing out he just re-read the 2009 resolution “and I am having some difficulty in my mind whether or not I would support the motion.” However, reading the resolution he noted, “it does provide for a government – a council of local citizens. Now, I think the legislation has been amended since then. So if we are now talking about an appointed body, we have no rules around what that appointed body might consist of or who they would be accountable to and I guess my feeling is that perhaps it’s not at all out of line to rescind a motion that was based on some assumptions that were made several years ago and now seem to have been changed as a result of a legislative change that has occurred since then.”
Whetham voted in favour of both of Wilkie’s motions, as did City of Cranbrook Mayor Wayne Stetski.
“I was, quite frankly, disappointed at the time” the 2009 decision was made, Stetski told the board. “I always thought this decision should be made locally. There are very capable people sitting at this board and they are very capable” of making the right decisions and handling the workload that the Jumbo file would bring.
Conklin told the board, from what she understood from listening to Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett speak the previous evening (June 7), “it (resort municipality) is made up of local people. The appointees will be local people.”
Taft disagreed. “It doesn’t say anything in the legislation about creating a municipality with no people,” he said, adding, “An Order in Council can change anything. Despite what Mr. Bennett said yesterday, an Order in Council from the B.C. Cabinet can amend any part of the Community Charter or the Municipal Act and give this municipality any host of powers they want. And I don’t care if it is local people appointed to the council, they’re still appointed. They are accountable to the developer and the province, not to their neighbours, not to the residents of the valley. I can think of lots of people who are local who I wouldn’t want appointed to a council. And normally in an election they might not win, so that part of it I don’t buy,” he said, suggesting “it’s wordsmithing” and “fluff” that suggests all is on the level.
Taft further argued that in 2005, after the then regional board rescinded a 1996 motion supporting a resort municipality another resolution was passed (36277) that said the RDEK should not be a part of the technical review committee that would look at the resort proposal.
“We chose not to participate on that technical review committee because we felt we would be the approving agency – we would be the body that would be reviewing the applications. We felt we – and I say we even though I wasn’t on the board at the time – this board felt that it would be improper to be reviewing the application ahead of time and providing the applicant with information on how they could be better, if we’re the ones who are going to review it. What that means is we’ve never been part of forming this and making sure that it meets the normal criteria that we would see from other ski hill developers, or other real estate developments. We’ve never had any input into what is in this master development plan and that is why it is so important in my mind that we’re part of that option when we look at governance. We wouldn’t give any other developer this kind of power. We wouldn’t give Sweetwater or Fernie Alpine Resort; we wouldn’t allow any other developer that kind of power and not even look at their application and then just let them approve it themselves, and then potentially amend it and change it. It’s crazy – absolutely crazy.”
The resort municipality concept was still “theoretical” in 2009, Taft said. “Right now, this is real. The Master Development Agreement has been signed. The province is disposing of the land for the purpose of a ski resort. It’s going forward in one form or another, and that’s why it is so crucial that we’re part of what it looks like. Until we have firm, real answers in legislation as far as what this municipality would look like, I think it’s improper for us to be saying we support it. Maybe this is a political statement but as much as what Mr. Bennett said yesterday reassured me a little bit, I don’t necessarily trust this government is going to follow through on everything. Until I see it in writing and in legislation – they’ve been known to change their position on other issues, so this board needs to have more information, to make an informed decision, that they support something.”
City of Fernie Mayor Mary Giuliano voted against rescinding, but supported the motion for consultation. She noted she’s never dealt with the Jumbo issue before, “so this back and forth information has been really interesting to me.”
Referring to a video shown to the directors by a Ktunaxa Nation delegation prior to the board discussion, she said “on a spiritual level I was ready to support this completely. However, on a board level, I have one question, ‘If resolutions keep being made and rescinded, what weight do any of them ever really have? Hearing that this could be the (fifth) one, I’m just thinking, every three years there is going to be a change (at the board table). I don’t believe that any of these decisions have any impact, on me, because they keep getting made and changed, so I want you all to think about this.”
District of Elkford Mayor Dean McKerracher, who voted against both motions, said he disagreed with a statement made in the five minute long Ktunaxa video (Where the bears go to dance), that grizzly bears “would be gone” if a community was built in Jumbo.
“If you lived in Elkford the last two years you’ll know the grizzly wanders right through the middle of town in the middle of day, with her cubs, so the grizzly bear won’t be gone. If the grizzly bear wants to stay, it’ll stay.”
McKerracher also noted he doesn’t “see anywhere where the developer is going to have the choice of the mayor and council of the municipality. This has been going on for 20 years and I think 20 years from now this’ll still be going on and I don’t think there will be anything up there, but that’s more my personal (view),” he said.
Sosnowski said the length of the discussion (“almost an hour”) supports his initial statement that Jumbo would be a giant elephant taking up all of the regional board’s and staff’s time.
“It’s good to listen to everybody and see their position but my point is we’ve been here an hour and we’re just on the first debate! If we dealt with Jumbo it would be this every single meeting. We’d have a gallery full but that’s okay because we’re building a new board room with a huge gallery. I’m telling you, it would be people – emails, directors I am telling you once that we are engaged in this… In the last decision in 2009 – everyday 50 emails, bad ones, dirty-calling-names emails. It’s not for us to deal with. If you are looking after your constituents – what you are here to do is look after your local business. We don’t want to deal with this and that was very evident in 2009. This just bringing it up again – it’s the same thing. If we want consultation, the consultation that you’re doing – we are going to be inundated. There will be no other business done at this regional district,” he stated.
Sosnowski said Jumbo would interfere with regular business being done for constituents in the Elk Valley.
“I have constituents, Heath (Seel) has people in area B, Rob (Gay) has people in Area C, we have a municipal director here that has business that relates to their municipality and it was not a lot more was going to get done. The video is very, very strong,” he said, noting it hit a heart string. “And that is what they tug on. They tug on our emotional heart strings, when really we’re not emotional. We should be here dealing with the business of our constituents and bring their business here. And it might not, like director McKerracher says, happen for 20 years. But somebody has got to stand up and say ‘enough is enough’ and I hope it’s this board.
Conklin said she agreed with Mayor Giuliano about the board risking damage to its credibility.
“We could lose total credibility if we rescind this. It’s gone back and forth and back and forth – enough is enough,” she said, adding she believes MLA Bennett and the Liberal government about them listening to the people of the region. “Right now, our board’s credibility is at stake.”
Canal Flats’ Juras argued the board’s credibility was damaged during previous changes of mind toward how it would or wouldn’t handle Jumbo.
The Ktunaxa video and the nation’s views toward Jumbo must also be respected and listened to, she added. “It would be like us saying it is okay to tear down a church and build a development on it, and to just ignore that, I think, is wrong.”
Taft also disagreed with the board losing credibility, noting that every three years there is an election and new faces are found around the board table, often bringing about new discussions of old issues.
“There absolutely is the right and the ability to reconsider things in a new light. Why should the current Mayor of Fernie be bound by something a past mayor had passed? I think new things have come to the table here. With Bill 41 it’s very clear how much we don’t know. It’s very clear there is hardly anything in legislation about this and that is scary. Again, let’s not sign the contract before reading it.”
When it came time to vote, the following directors voted in favour of Wilkie’s motion: Wilkie, Taft, Juras, Stetski, Whetham, McRae and Electoral Area E director Jane Walter.
Voting against it were: Sosnowski, Conklin, Booth, McKerracher, Giuliano, Slee, District of Sparwood Mayor Lois Halko and board chair Rob Gay.
The next vote dealt with the motion to ask for UBCM, RDEK and First Nations consultation.
McKerracher questioned why the UBCM should be included, though he agreed with regional government and First Nations being consulted.
Wilkie said the UBCM should be included in the motion because Bill 41 impacts all municipalities and regional districts.
Slee, who is president of the UBCM, said Bill 41 will be dealt with by the provincial board in its fall annual general meeting, and for that reason he supports the motion.
Only Conklin, Sosnowski and McKerracher voted against the second motion, to ask the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development to consult with UBCM, First Nations and the RDEK prior to the creation of a mountain resort municipality in Jumbo.
Ian Cobb/e-KNOWTags: City of Cranbrook director Bob WhethamCity of Cranbrook Mayor Wayne StetskiCity of Fernie Mayor Mary GiulianoCity of Kimberley Mayor Ron McRaeDistrict of Invermere Mayor Gerry TaftElectoral Area B director Heath SleeElectoral Area C director Rob GayElectoral Area F director Wendy BoothElectoral Area G director Gerry WilkieGlacier Resort Ltdistrict of Elkford Mayor Dean McKerracherJumbo ValleyKtunaxa NationRegional District of East KootenayVillage of Canal Flats Mayor Ute JurasVillage of Radium Hot Springs Mayor Dee Conklin
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