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U.S. group wants formal assessment of massive B.C. back country ski resort

Colville Confederated Tribes seeks engagement on the Zincton project on 5,000 hectares near Kaslo
Zincton Mountain Resort would be built along the slopes of Whitewater Mountain near New Denver. The road shown south of the tenure is Highway 31A between New Denver and Kaslo. Map: Brent Harley and Associates

The chair of the U.S.-based Colville Confederated Tribes is asking the B.C. government to carry out a formal environmental assessment of a backcountry all-season resort proposed for a wilderness area north of Nelson.

“The Zincton project falls squarely within the Sinixt traditional territory,” Jared-Michael Erickson wrote, addressing Environment Minister George Heyman and Tourism Minister Lana Popham in a letter dated Feb. 8. “Accordingly, full engagement with the Sinixt will be required moving forward.”

The Zincton resort would be built on 5,000 hectares in the Selkirk Range about 30 kilometres west of Kaslo.

Erickson’s letter explained that the Supreme Court of Canada, in its 2021 decision in R. v. Desautel, declared the Sinixt an aboriginal people of Canada. He wrote that that gives the Sinixt “a constitutionally protected right to hunt in their traditional territory in British Columbia, and to be engaged and consulted on anything that would impact those rights.”

The Zincton proposal would see a wilderness resort built on both private and public land in the vicinity of four parks: Kokanee Glacier, Goat Range, Valhalla and Purcell Wilderness Conservancy.

The provincial government has a number of stages set out in its application process for backcountry resorts. The Zincton project is now at the Formal Proposal stage, and the next stage would be the Interim Agreement Decision. Asked by email when the proposal might move to that stage, and what still needs to be done to accomplish that, the provincial government did not respond.

At the Interim Agreement stage, the government could decide that a formal review by the Environmental Assessment Office should be carried out, which is what Erickson wants.

In October the Sinixt Confederacy, a branch of the Colville Confederated Tribes, opened an office in Nelson, with a view to examining, and perhaps intervening in, planned resource projects in its Canadian territory.

At the time, the biologist James Baxter, one of the Nelson office’s staff members, told the Nelson Star that the office was planning to examine the Zincton proposal because of wildlife concerns.

The government, which has asked for public feedback on the project, has heard a lot about wildlife.

The project’s critics say the development would have negative impacts on caribou, grizzly bears, mountain goats, mule deer and wolverines by disturbing connectivity corridors, especially for grizzlies, and causing habitat fragmentation.

These concerns remain despite the proposal’s inclusion of a 10,000-acre summer wildlife corridor and protection zone in its plans.

In an interview with the Nelson Star, Erickson said there is likely to be an impact on wildlife no matter what is done to try to mitigate it.

“Everyone wants to mitigate for some impacts, but there’s some things you just can’t mitigate for, when you get to a certain point.” he said. “A lot of those impacts you don’t know about until down the road, could be a long time down the road, could be a decade or more.”

In addition to wildlife concerns, the government has received public comment about the potential impacts on the local community and economy, water and wastewater, public access, carbon footprint, and cumulative effects.

The proposed resort will have a zone serviced by chairlifts, and five backcountry zones.

The lift zones would be located on the western portions of the proposed tenure and border private land, on which Zincton Mountain Village would be built.

Erickson’s letter to the province expresses concerns about whether the environmental impacts of the village will be taken into account.

In an email to the Nelson Star, David Harley, the lead proponent of the Zincton project, said he has seen Erickson’s letter to the province and he will continue to engage with the Sinixt Confederacy.

He added that Indigenous groups will be invited to collaborate in the formation of the Zincton Institute, “an independent not-for-profit to manage the clean-up initiative of the 130-year-old Retallack mining district with Indigenous partners.”

He said some of the income from the ski operations would fund the institute.

The Zincton proposal describes the village as “an intimate, pedestrian-oriented, and environmentally sustainable community … with residents working collectively towards the goal of sustainability and circularity.” The proposal states it would be carbon neutral, powered by hydro generated in nearby Sandon.

Built on a bench with 12,000 acres of skiable area, the project is bigger than Whistler and Blackcomb combined, the company’s Expression of Interest (EOI) says. It notes a 2,133-metre difference from the parking lot to the peak of Whitewater (not to be confused with Whitewater Ski Resort) with terrain of varying difficulty. The area gets up to 18 metres of snow in winter.

According to the EOI, the project would produce more than 200 local jobs and a $20-million annual payroll in the region. Resort users would take a gondola to a mountain village designed to be walkable and eco-friendly. The village will have private cabins, B&Bs and bunkhouses, but no hotels or condos. It won’t have a day lodge, but rather a developed commercial area with restaurants, bars, spas, general store, and other resort-related business.

With files from John Boivin.


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Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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