VGD open house: public questions about this project and Jumbo

Tom Oberti of VGD answers questions from the public.
Tom Oberti of VGD answers questions from the public.

By: Korie Marshall

Representatives from Valemount Glacier Destinations were in Valemount last week for meetings with politicians and the public. They expect to be back at least a few more times this summer in order to meet their ambitious goal of opening ski lifts for Christmas 2016.

Around 100 people met at the Best Western on Thursday evening, July 2nd to talk one-on-one with board members and investors with VGD. Tommaso Oberti also gave a brief update on the project and the next steps, followed by about 45 min of public questions.

Oberti says the next steps include completion of environmental and engineering studies, submission of the finalized Master Plan, Regional District and provincial reviews, public input and hearings, amendments for zoning and the official community plan, and finally the master development agreement with the province if everything is approved. He says it is ambitious, but if approved,
the project can begin construction in the spring of 2016 and lifts can be running by Christmas.

There were a number of public questions about the access route to the resort base, including concerns about visitors bypassing Valemount, the safety of a single lane bridge, and concerns of residents currently on Crooked Creek Road. The proponents have been considering different options, including building a new access from Pine Road, opposite 5th Avenue at the Highway 5 intersection where lights were installed last year. Oberti says the access via Crooked Creek Road near the airport is still the most economical. The developers have to pay for the road construction now, whereas in the past the province was responsible for providing the major access to resorts. He says they are still working with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, and the Pine Road route is not off the table, especially if the community support or support from other partners could be found.

One resident asked if the fact that the Jumbo project near Invermere is “dead in the water” is good or bad for this project. Concerns were raised over the winter that buildings started last fall in a rush to meet a critical deadline for the Jumbo project were too close to avalanche paths. The buildings were not hit by an avalanche as reported recently in The Valley Sentinel, and
“in fact, there is no evidence that an avalanche reached those sites in a long long time,” said Oberti this week.

The Environmental Assessment Office announced on April 24th that the project was not in compliance with its environmental certificate because of the avalanche risk. Oberti told the Goat in May that it was not a deal breaker for Jumbo, saying it was complicated, but really “much ado about nothing.” When originally planning the Jumbo village the developers had been following avalanche mapping done in the 90s, which is very close to new mapping done this past winter. But there are different classifications of zoning which came into being in 2002 including a new “blue” zone in which building is permissible with proper mitigation measures, according to Canadian Avalanche Centre standards. That is the zone the day lodge is in, and it is close to the red (high risk) zone. Oberti said it is common for buildings at resorts to be built near an avalanche zone, and at some sites even parking lots are in the red zone.

“What is unusual is the conditions written into the project’s environmental certificate – they are very black and white; archaic,” said Oberti, and they don’t conform to present Canadian Avalanche Centre standards which allow for various levels of mitigation. He said the conditions in the certificate could be amended to reflect current thinking, and the proponents intend to work with the EAO on that.

Oberti said there isn’t a comparable situation for the Valemount project because the valleys are so much wider in the Valemount area, and the resort base is situated on an elevated bench.

Late last month, Minister of Environment Mary Polak announced the environmental certificate for the Jumbo project had expired because she determined the project was not substantially started by the October deadline. The developers will have to apply for a new environmental certificate in order to proceed.

Oberti says the Jumbo project is not “dead in the water,” but progress or delays with Jumbo do not affect the VGD project, and they still believe that having two glacier resorts in the province will be even better than one, in the same way that Jasper and Banff are better together than either one of them separately. The two glacier resorts could eventually create an exciting circle
route for visitors with Jasper and Banff on the other side of the provincial border.

A resident also asked if there were any snow-making plans for the resort. Oberti says there was a meter and a half of snow at the base site in March, which was way more than at any other resort in BC this year, so they still don’t expect to be making snow, but it could be something that is required in the future.

Phase 1 currently includes plans for employee housing at the resort base. Oberti says that is because the province requires them to provide some of their bed count at the resort base as employee housing, and the proponents have no authority or control to say it can or should be provided within the village.

Board members Steve Leahy, Jill Bodkin and Oberto Oberti all reiterated that they want questions now, and want to work with the community. Herbert Boenisch read a letter (published in this week’s letters to the editor) expressing concerns that the development could lead to higher property taxes for residents and requesting that the developers and the community work together to build something more than a “fake experience” like the Glacier Skywalk in Jasper. Tom Oberti says they agree and want to work with the community to build a better experience and better life for those involved.

The Master Plan is online at www.valemountglaciers.com and is expected to be finalized (with the completion of some ongoing environmental studies) by the end of July. Watch here for more on upcoming meetings and opportunities for public feedback.

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