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Posted: June 9, 2015

Vague permits enabled construction in avalanche path

By Chris Conway

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information (FOIPPA) establish that vague location details in Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality (JGMRM) building permits enabled construction to proceed in a major avalanche path at the proposed resort last fall.

The municipality is now moving forward with an official community plan (OCP) process that appears to disregard expert avalanche recommendations and an applicable avalanche safety guideline.

Last fall, JGMRM issued two building permits for construction projects proposed by Glacier Resorts Ltd. (GRL). On September 24, 2014 building permit (#J1000.000) was issued to GRL for construction of a foundation for the “Jumbo Creek Daylodge (sic).” On October 3, 2014 a second permit (#J1001.0000) was issued for construction of a foundation for the “Jumbo Creek Service Building.”  Both permits were issued pursuant to the JGMRM Building Bylaw.

JGMRM letters accompanying the permits were signed by Arne Dohlen under the title “Building Official.” Dohlen is the Director of Planning and Development Services for the Village of Radium Hot Springs.

The Village of Radium provides contracted administrative services to JGMRM. Dohlen’s letters state that JGMRM relies upon field reviews and letters of assurance submitted by GRL that the construction substantially complies with the BC Building Code, the bylaw and other applicable safety enactments. According to the letters JGMRM undertakes limited monitoring services in relation to building construction within the mountain resort.

Jumbo Foundation AvPathShortly after the GRL foundations were constructed last October, local tourism operator RK Heli-Ski raised public safety concerns that the foundations had been placed in an avalanche path capable of producing large and destructive avalanches.

GRL responded that the foundations were not in an avalanche path. “RK Heliski is plain wrong,” stated GRL via Twitter on Nov 4. “Top avi experts in Canada prepared mapping for Jumbo.”

Despite GRL’s assurance, two subsequent expert avalanche reports confirmed that the foundations are in fact within the high and moderate risk areas of the Pink Panther avalanche path.

A risk report prepared by Dynamic Avalanche Consulting on March 19 for GRL recommended risk mitigations that could enable the day lodge to be used for its proposed purpose despite the hazardous location. However, Dynamic’s report entirely omitted a formal Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA) restrictive guideline stating that “Special structures where large numbers of people may gather, multi-unit residences or structures used for essential services (hospitals, schools, police and fire stations) must be placed only in a White zone and where there is a high confidence that the avalanche risk is low.”

Alan Jones, Dynamic’s principal consultant and senior engineer, prepared the risk report. Jones has since repeatedly refused to explain why his professional risk report omitted the relevant CAA guideline regarding this type of structure. The CAA has also refused to comment specifically on the Dynamic report.

However, CAA’s Executive Director Joe Obad stated: “where the judgment of a member of the CAA may lead towards a variation from the recommendations of these guidelines, he/she is obliged to present a strong case for doing so.”

Dynamic’s report omitted the guideline entirely and therefore did not present any reason for a variation from its restriction.

An additional report issued by Dynamic on March 26 identified 25 major avalanche paths affecting the mid to upper Jumbo Creek Valley.

The report states that all the paths are capable of producing size 3 avalanches and some are capable of producing size 4 avalanches. CAA size classifications range from size 1 to size 5. A size 4 avalanche is capable of destroying buildings and large areas of forest. The Pink Panther path produces size 4 avalanches.

Both Dynamic reports are referenced by JGMRM as “OCP Related Avalanche Material.” However, the full CAA guidelines, which include the omitted restriction, are not included in the list of OCP materials.

The JGMRM documents obtained through a FOIPPA application show that neither building permit definitively determined the precise location for the construction of the GRL foundations despite their location in high-hazard avalanche terrain.

In each permit the construction location is only described as “Vicinity of Jumbo Creek Resort Site.” GRL subsequently placed both the foundations within the Pink Panther avalanche path.

Village of Radium Hot Springs chief administrative officer Mark Read provides acting-CAO services to JGMRM. Read has repeatedly refused to answer questions regarding the JGMRM building permits and the related process. He has also refused to confirm if any inspection has been performed or what is the current status of the permits.

Dynamic’s second (March 26) report states: “Any area where residential development is anticipated should be mapped to a higher level of detail according to the avalanche risk zones defined in the Guidelines for Snow Avalanche Risk Determination and Mapping in Canada (CAA, 2004 ).”

Despite this clearly worded recommendation, JGMRM has subsequently moved forward with an OCP that uses residential mapping and plans purchased by the municipality from Oberto Oberti, president of GRL.

The residential mapping substantially predates the reports that determined GRL claims were false and the foundations were placed in the Pink Panther avalanche path. The OCP mapping does not meet the level of detail recommended by Dynamic for residential areas at the resort. It is the same mapping that GRL relied upon to incorrectly refute RK’s initial alarm about the location of the foundations.

In a five-minute council meeting on May 19, JGMRM mayor Greg Deck and Coun. Nancy Hugunin tag-teamed the second reading of the OCP bylaw. Coun. Stephen Ostrander failed to attend the meeting and gave no reason to council in advance for his absence.

Following the brief meeting Deck refused to take any questions from this reporter including any regarding the OCP process and the avalanche reports. He stated that the reason for refusal was his disagreement with this reporter’s writing on this issue.

A public hearing for the OCP has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 16 and will be held at the Radium council chambers.

The Dynamic reports and the OCP documents may be viewed at

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