by KORIE MARSHALL
About 75 people, some local and some less familiar to the area, attended the Province’s final open house on a proposed ski and sightseeing resort west of Valemount last week.
Representatives from Valemount Glacier Destinations, the Ministry’s Mountain Resorts Branch, local governments and the Simpcw First Nation were on hand for a brief presentation and discussion.
“I want to recognize that we are on the traditional territory of the Simpcw First Nation, and we wish to thank Chief Nathan Matthew for having us here,” said Bill Hunter, director of Mountain Operations for the Ministry.
Chief Matthew said it was an honour to be among fellow citizens of this very incredible place. “Like you, we live in a country that is protective of people’s rights,” said Matthew, noting his people have the right to live within their traditional territory, to be involved in decisions affecting it, and to have the chance to benefit economically as well as continuing to use it for traditional purposes.
“We are on board,” says Matthew of the project. “Our environmental company has worked on the environmental review so we are very familiar with the wildlife and other environmental aspects to the project. There is nothing there that we believe can’t be mitigated.” He said the Simpcw people look forward to the project’s continued development to help bring some economic stability to this part of their territory.
“I don’t think it’s easy, but I think if everyone pulls together to support it, but also be very aware of the kind of effects the development can have, we should be able to go forward,” said Matthew.
On behalf of Valemount Mayor Jeannette Townsend, Councillor Owen Torgerson said the resort proposal is on Council’s strategic priority list because of its environmentally sensitive design and small footprint, and because of its social and economic benefits. Key to the project’s success is the support of the Simpcw and the fact that it is being funded by domestic (Canadian) dollars, he said.
Since the Master Plan was accepted last fall, Hunter says work has been done on issues relating to road access and environmental impacts. Oberti says over 60 edits were made to the Master Plan in response to 179 agency (provincial and local government) comments and over 60 stakeholder comments, the majority of which were minor changes.
The proposed boundary and study area in the original expression of interest covered just shy of 16,500 hectares of land. In the Master Plan submitted in October 2015, the total area was substantially less at about 8,738 hectares, excluding part of the McLennan Glacier and much of the southeast face of Mount Trudeau. The current working boundary, presented by the Province at the open house was slightly smaller again, at about 8,004. The Province says the revisions were based on issues identified by agencies, stakeholders and First Nations, and the boundary now addresses technical, operations, environmental and safety concerns and existing interests.
Speaking for the proponent, Tommaso Oberti said the Simpcw were not just cooperative, but really gave guidance and direction for the project. He also thanked his father Oberto for his incredible drive and vision and his leadership of the team.
“We see a big light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not a train. We’re hoping to complete the (Master Plan) process in a matter of weeks,” said Oberti, to a round of spontaneous applause from the crowd.
He said they were pushing a December 2016 date for opening for a long time because they needed a goal post to drive the long and complicated process. He says they are about three months behind the original schedule, so they’ve changed their open date goal to December 2017, which he says works better for some technical issues. They still hope to start some construction this summer.
“To be just one year behind on a project of this type is fairly remarkable,” said Oberti.
The Province issued an interim agreement with VGD in March 2013. If the finalized Master Plan is approved, the Province can then offer a Master Development Agreement. The Regional District of Fraser-Fort George is also processing changes to the area’s official community plan (OCP) and zoning bylaws. A public hearing on the OCP changes has been scheduled for April 6th.