Tumbler Ridge No Longer BC’s Newest Municipality

Trent Ernst, Editor
 
It was bound to happen someday. 
 
Tumbler Ridge, which was created just over 30 years ago, has been BC’s youngest municipality, but that changed on Tuesday, February 19, when the BC Government officially created the Mountain Resort Municipality of Jumbo Glacier.
 
The new municipality is lacking a few things, like, oh, say people or buildings, but it does have a new mayor and council. And the potential to become one of BC’s best alpine resorts. Considering the competition, including Fernie, Whistler and Red Mountain, that’s a fairly big claim, but one the developers are willing to bet a lot of money on. 
 
A lot of money. The area has been the centre of a raging debate for over 20 years, slowly bleeding money for proponent Oberto Oberti, an Italian-borne, Vancouver dwelling architect who has dreamed of building a resort here since he first visited the area in 1990. At 70 years old, he has skied around the world, but it is Jumbo that has captured his heart. 
 
The appointment of mayor and council has added fuel to the fire, and there have already been two judicial reviews filed against their appointment. The first by the Ktunaxa Nation, challenging that the signing of the Master Development Agreement did not take into consideration their Aboriginal Rights and Title to the area, known to them as Qat’muk. The second was filed February 18 by the West Kootenay Eco Society, arguing that the Letters Patent of the Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality violate the Canadian constitution by creating a municipality with no residents.
 
Greg Deck is Jumbo Glacier’s new mayor. He says by some strange coincidence, he was also the first mayor of Radium, which incorporated in 1990. (He’d like to dispute Tumbler Ridge’s claim as BC’s newest municipality on that basis, too.) He says that he’s not too worried about the legal challenges. While he is no legal expert, he says he’s been advised that the claims are fairly tenuous. 
 
When finished, the new 6,000 hectare municipality will be home to the Jumbo Glacier resort, a year-round tourist destination amidst some of the most spectacular scenery in the Purcell Mountains. It will offer year-round skiing on the area’s four glaciers and a 6,000+ bed community. 
 
The new community is at the heart of the controversy. Critics say the area’s environment cannot support so many people year-round. “Scientific information has demonstrated that the Jumbo Resort project will have very substantial negative environmental impacts on the glaciers, the watershed and will eventually impact the internationally recognized Columbia Wetlands,” writes the organizers of Jumbo Wild at www.keepitwild.ca, one of the many websites protesting the proposed resort. “Threatened and endangered wildlife such as mountain caribou, grizzly bear, mountain goats, wolverine and bull trout will be negatively impacted.”
 
Of these, it is the grizzly bear that stand the most to lose, argue environmentalists.  “The upper Jumbo Valley is a key part of a wildlife corridor in the wild Purcell Mountains between ranges to the north and the south. Grizzlies depend on this connected habitat to maintain healthy populations in the region. The valley is recognized internationally as a vital part of one of North America’s most important wildlife corridor. If built, the Jumbo Glacier Resort would isolate the wilderness conservancy by blocking access. This would reduce the connectivity of grizzly habitat in the area, and lead to reduced populations, locally and regionally.”
 
However, the way the new municipality was created is also at issue. As there are no people currently living in the 61 km sq area to vote in the new mayor and council. Instead, the new mayor and council were appointed by the provincial government. 
 
The government was able to establish the municipality, by making changes to the Local Government act last year, by adding in a new section that reads: “the minister may recommend to the Lieutenant Governor in Council incorporation of a new mountain resort municipality for the area, whether or not there are residents in the area at the time of the recommendation, if the minister is satisfied that a person has entered into an agreement with the government with respect to developing alpine ski lift operations, year-round recreational facilities and commercial overnight accommodation within the area.”
 
However, the changes were not what allowed the government to appoint a council. Indeed, this is something that has happened in the province for decades. And the last municipality where the government did this? Right here in Tumbler Ridge. 
 
In fact, one could argue that Tumbler Ridge was even less democratic than Jumbo. When Tumbler Ridge was originally founded in 1981, Patrick Walsh was appointed as commissioner for the district. Walsh had all the usual powers of a Mayor and Council under the Municipal Act. The first civic election wasn’t scheduled until 1987, with a six year transition period. However, the first council was elected in 1983, with Walsh as mayor. He stepped down in 1985.
Mackenzie, another instant resource town, was created in 1966, with a council being appointed by the provincial government. While the provincial government removed a few councilors and added a few councilors, the first full civic elections didn’t happen until 1972. 
 
Deck says he’s in a fairly enviable position. As the council shapes the community plan for the new municipality, he has twenty years worth of studies and environmental assessments and planning to draw from. “Jumbo has been planned to within an inch of its life,” says Deck. “It’s all been set forward. Standards for sewer, standards for water consumption. What we have to do is covert all of that work into municipal language. We have to convert the environmental assessment into a community plan.” 
 
Because of this, he says, the task is easy, made easier by Jumbo’s lack of population. “The benefit is we are able to do this in a best practices sort of way absent of any personalities. We don’t have that cranky landholder that says ‘to hell with you, you can’t tell me what to do with my land.’ The biggest trouble, says Deck will be to balance the building code with sustainability. He says they want to use the best materials to create the infrastructure, but that needs to be balanced against making the cost too prohibitive for the developer. 
 
Deck says he doesn’t expect that the population of Jumbo will hit the threshold of electors needed before a municipal election any time soon. “It’s far enough off in the future I haven’t been paying attention to it,” says Deck. When he was mayor of Radium, he says, 60 percent of the population there were out of Alberta. “the expectation is that the population will grow slowly. Most of the people will be secondary home owners, many of them out of Alberta. In Tumbler Ridge, three months after those people moved to town they were able to vote.” In Jumbo, Deck expects to see a situation more like Radium, perhaps even more pronounced, with very few full-time residents. 
 
After 22 years of sometimes bitter fighting to get the resort established, why would Deck take on the mayorship? He says a large part of that is the proponent for the project, Oberto Oberti. “From the start it was odd to be talking to an artist and an architect, rather than a real estate agent. He was passionate about skiing. He wanted to build a ski hill in better location than Whistler. He found two places: the best by far was Jumbo.” Deck says it wasn’t a popular position to be in support of the project, but after all the work that has gone into it, “when they asked, it was hard not to honour it.”
 
He says it’s feasible that the first lift—a surface lift on Farnham Glacier, where the Canadian Ski Team practices—will be ready by this summer, but doesn’t expect to see any serious development on the resort for at least a couple of years.