Jumbo Wild – We the People
If you didn’t look close you just might miss it, and we do.
Gazing across the Columbia River Basin into the morning light on the Purcell Mountains, we pass right by the Radium Hot Springs municipal offices. It’s not difficult to do here, where human presence is a mere asterisk on the seemingly infinite word of nature.
Editor’s note: Activism takes many shapes from protesting in the street to signing online petitions. One of the most important and effective things we can do is speak out at public hearings. Today’s post takes us into a hearing from earlier this year regarding the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort in British Columbia—just one episode in the 25-year battle over the Jumbo Valley. We share this story in conjunction with the release of Jumbo Wild, a new feature film by Sweetgrass Productions and Patagonia. As the film launches, we’re working closely with local conservation group Wildsight to help stop development and permanently protect the Jumbo Valley. Get film tour dates, watch the trailer and take action to help keep Jumbo wild at Patagonia.com.
Doubling back we find it. Off-white, little signage, and looking more private dwelling than public office. This will be the staging ground for public input on the Official Community Plan for the recently formed Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality. A public hearing of sorts for an area without a public, where concerned individuals are given five minutes each to share input and opinion on the direction of the proposed Jumbo Mountain Resort.
Jumbo’s mayor, Greg Deck, is a director of the Columbia Basin Trust and the Columbia Power Corporation, a set of roles that have been noted as a sign of expertise in the community by his appointees. Whereas his current audience finds it a conflict of interest at best, and the seeds for abuse of power and resources at worst. Flanking him are council members Nancy Hugunin and Steve Ostrander, two local business owners appointed by East Kootenay MLA Bill Bennett, rather than via local election, as Jumbo itself has no resident population to vote.
The first order is summarizing a letter from Wildsight opposing the development with 210 signatures, along with 104 additional letters and 18 independent emails in opposition. Questions of economic viability, wildlife habitat protection and the undemocratic nature of the council set the tone for the meeting and echo the points that have framed the issue of Jumbo for the last 25 years.
The sole supporting letter comes from a board member of the developer, Glacier Resorts Ltd., who is also the author behind much of the internal literature uplifting the resort and deriding critics.
The first of the speakers is Invermere resident and local branch director for Wildsight, Jim Galloway. At 80 years old, he sports a short pair of hiking shorts more suited for 13 days wandering the surrounding mountains—a reality this past fall at a monitoring camp on the Jumbo access road—rather than speaking to a public committee.
More striking than his clear disdain for the current state of the process is how precisely he points out individual instances and systemic issues within the Official Community Plan (OCP) from lack of available police force, to control or monitoring of all-terrain vehicles as is required of the project. “Even if this was a strong OCP, which it is not, it’s only as good as the committee enforcing it.”
The sentiment was echoed by Bob Campsall, head of the Jumbo Creek Conservation Society, and Doug Ankin, an Olympic gold-medalist on the 1964 Canadian bobsled team. Equally tall as the other is short, they share a lifetime of memories from this basin and a Shakspearean charisma as they paint vivid images of the natural beauty in the surrounding wilderness and point to the dated nature of the project, specifically the advertised year-round skiing that is no longer a sure thing as the glaciers continue to melt.
Portions of the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort sit directly in major avalanche paths—a fact that has hampered developers’ plans. Jumbo Valley, British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Garrett Grove
Scattered throughout the hearing is a group of strong maternal figures from the community who display varying degrees of anger and fear, and an unflagging desire to protect the safety of their community, the ecosystem and the rule of law. Emotions run high as Judy Burns, a veterinary technician in Invermere who works to help restore the local raptor population, counted off the points where safety was overlooked in the OCP. With an almost unbelievable vigilance to detail, she pointed out every instance where drafts of the document had been changed to soften language devoted to safety.
Graham Holt, a long-time guide for local business RK Heliski, and Margaret Jameson, also a veteran guide and former backcountry lodge owner, detailed the avalanche danger current construction is already in and the lack of reporting on 23 of 25 noted avalanche paths where proposed residential dwellings are set to be built. All made worse by the developers’ omission of the countless avalanche paths that would make the road accessing the valley one of the costliest and most dangerous in the country to build and maintain.
It all seems like old news to the council until Mr. Holt brings up the recently updated (March 2015) Adventure Tourism Policy for British Columbia and the need for new resorts to consult with existing heli- and cat-ski operations. This sparked Mayor Deck’s interest for the first time in the hearing as it became clear a real conversation will have to be had on the subject beyond the one-way presentations of this meeting.
Local skiers and snowboarders largely oppose the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort, preferring to ride lifts at existing local resorts or tour into the backcountry under their own power and experience. Photo: Garrett Grove
Gurmeet Brar is the last to speak. A retired chemical engineer and ambassador to Lake Windermere, he takes deliberate, heavy steps towards the stand and slowly raises his head to address the council. He tells about his time spent studying the OCP, poring over three additional binders of public records on the Jumbo Project and composing a 30-page formal response covering what he refers to as “falsehoods, false assertions and blatant lies” within those documents.
He notes that while the First Nations are not here to speak for themselves because they are attending a community funeral, they have long opposed this project publicly, and he personally views the project as spiritual genocide against the Ktunaxa Nation.
In closing, he notes that the approval of permits for slab foundations in an avalanche area for the resort’s day lodge and supply building go so against precedent and regulations for the area that it’s a blatant show of how corrupt the entire process has become.
Mr. Brar’s closing words are met with resounding applause and cheers from the audience. It’s hard to feel anything but a sense of awe at the commitment to action, attention to detail and sheer will of this community to hold accountable all those who should be.
Those who (would if they could) say “no.” Ursus arctos horribilis. Photo: Steve Ogle
The proponents of the Jumbo Project have often cited the unusually long review process or radical groups opposed to the project as reasons for slow progress. The men and women speaking out today are not radicals. They are people committed to an honest democratic process, one that holds all those involved accountable to the rules and regulations that protect the health and future of the community and surrounding environment for this generation and the next.
Get involved. Check film tour dates, watch the trailer and take action to help keep Jumbo wild at Patagonia.com.
Eliel Hindert grew up in Utah's Wasatch Range, then wandered north to the coastal mountains of British Columbia for an education in both the classroom and outdoor environments. Today, Eliel balances the demands of professional skiing with the deadlines of writing and video production.