Intrawest considering role in Jumbo?

The controversial Jumbo Glacier resort is in the news again with an announcement that an updated master plan has been submitted to B.C.’s Land and Water for review.

Since its inception Jumbo has faced considerable opposition from local environmental groups and recreational businesses that believe it would harm wildlife in the area.

The promoter, Oberto Oberti, continues to try to puff up the prospects of his resort. Yet despite his assurances of progress, many formidable hurdles remain before the Jumbo resort in the East Kootenays is built or becomes operational.

RK Heli-Skiing Panorama, a well known skiing company with tenure in the area, has sued, alleging bias in the granting of Jumbo’s environmental certificate last October.

The project also faces several more review processes, including zoning approval by the local Regional District of East Kootenay. The local First Nation, the Ktunaxa Kinbasket Tribal Council has also expressed its vehement opposition.

One hurdle will be finding investors for the controversial resort, which was opposed by over 95% of those commenting during the environmental review.

An article in the Calgary Herald provided one interesting insight into the economic viability of the project. Oberti is quoted as saying the resort is “backed by investors from Japan, Europe, the U.S. and at least three from Canada.”

One of these investors is rumoured to be the giant developer Intrawest, which just reported a rocky $21.5 million US loss (or 45 cents a share) in the fiscal fourth quarter ended June 30. Dogwood Initiative recently wrote Intrawest to get clarification on their interest in Jumbo (See our letter).

We asked Intrawest both about their interest as an investor and about the rumours that they may be contracted to manage Jumbo if built. The carefully worded response from Intrawest’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), Dan Brownlie, raised more questions then it answered. (See Intrawest’s response)

Intrawest admitted that they “had discussions on the expertise and synergies that Intrawest could provide to both the development and the operation of the proposed resort.”

Mr. Brownlie denied Intrawest is considering investing. He wrote, “[h]owever, at this time we are focused on our own resort and have no current plans to invest in Jumbo Glacier Resort.” (My emphasis)

Mr. Brownlie’s use of the phrase “current plan” is curious.  His “no denial denial” just raises questions about Intrawest’s future plans. Perhaps they are waiting to see if Jumbo can overcome impeding hurdles and local opposition before making its interest public.

Another interesting aspect of Mr. Brownlie’s response to our queries was the issues it failed to address. For example, we described the  Ktunaxa Kinbasket Tribal Council’s opposition to the project. We also  informed Intrawest of recent court decisions affirming the Crown’s duty to “consult and, where necessary, accommodate First Nations about legislation, policy, decisions, and tenures governing land use and resource extraction.”

We also noted that these legal decisions “extend[s] to government policies and decisions pertaining to land use in the Jumbo Creek Valley.”
Surprisingly, Intrawest didn’t comment on the Ktunaxa Kinbasket Tribal Council opposition or the potential legal hurdles this may raise for the proposed resort.

We initially wrote to Intrawest in July to clarify their interest because  information about Intrawest’s discussions with Jumbo promoters was leaked to us. However, we were also curious because, surprisingly, Intrawest was one of Jumbo’s only public supporters despite the fact that the resort (if built) would become a competitor.

We wrote,

Surprisingly, one of the few voices of support for the project comes from Intrawest, a major competitor of the resort proponent and the manager of Panorama MountainVillage, the nearest ski resort to the project. On the public website of Glacier Resort Ltd (the proponent of Jumbo Glacier Resort), Intrawest is stated to “have given a vote of confidence to the project.” What makes this support surprising is that Intrawest suggests in its 2004 Annual Report (p.41) that the potential for Intrawest’s principal competitors to capture a share of the company’s present or potential customer base poses a business risk. Given this business risk, why would Intrawest publicly support the plans of a corporate competitor for a new resort in close proximity to Panorama Mountain Village? 

We don’t think Intrawest’s letter provided much clarity. We will continue tracking Intrawest and investigating who may be the other potential investors in the controversial Jumbo project.

Interestingly enough Intrawest is coming under fire from a growing coalition of environmental groups for its lack of a corporate environmental policy. Their decisions related to Jumbo may help determine whether they become a collective target in the run up to the 2010 Olympics.

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