The company promoting an open pit copper mine on the southern edge of Kamloops got a rough ride from TNRD directors at a board meeting today (Thursday, April 7, 2016).
Clyde Gillespie, KGHM Ajax’s project manager, presented the board with an update and said the corporation will be applying for ALR, zoning and development permits from the TNRD within the current quarter. The proposed mine is within the TNRD.
But Kamloops directors took the opportunity to lambaste KGHM for not following through with plans to negotiate community benefits with City council, instead opting for a committee the company will appoint.
Coun. Ken Christian, who so far is neutral on the project, said it appears KGHM doesn’t care what the City thinks. He pointed out that a company rep said a few years ago if City council opposed the project it wouldn’t go ahead, and Christian wanted to know if it would be the same should the TNRD come out in opposition.
Gillespie avoided answering directly, saying that if that should happen, KGHM would try to change the TNRD’s mind.
Marg Spina, another City director who hasn’t taken a position on the mine, also strongly criticized KGHM for withdrawing from discussions with the City on community benefits.
“I felt very offended by the letter” KGHM sent informing the City of the decision, she said.
Director Arjun Singh asked if failing to support the project would result in decreased community benefits funded by KGHM, but Gillespie said it wouldn’t change anything.
As it was World Health Day, I thought it appropriate to raise the issue of health impacts, so I pointed out that several consultants have criticized Ajax in that regard in recent weeks.
Health and environmental experts have variously described Ajax as a “toxic waste dump” and health hazard that should be stopped, that the Peterson Creek aquifer should be declared contaminated if Ajax goes ahead, questioned the company’s claim of 94 per cent mitigation on dust pollution, and renewed calls for full revelation of assay results due to health concerns.
I also noted that the provincial panel on Mount Polley recommended any new mines use dry stack tailings technology instead of wet tailings ponds.
In view of all this, I asked Gillespie if KGHM would now commit to funding a fully independent and comprehensive health-impact study on Ajax. His reply was that if the TNRD asked for one, the company would consider it.
So I made a motion to do just that. Some TNRD directors tend to be cautious about breaking new ground, and said they couldn’t support the request; then Director Ken Gillis moved to table my motion for 30 days until staff could report back on what’s been done so far with respect to health matters relating to Ajax. His motion narrowly passed, 14-12.
Since the end of the public comment period will come before the motion comes back to the table for a decision, it might seem of questionable value, except that it would put the board on record on a very important issue.
In response to my questions to staff, the board was told it has three options on Ajax’s ALR application, which would allow non-farm use of land around the mine: the board could simply refer it to the Agricultural Land Commission; the board could refer it with a recommendation; or the board could say no.
However, development services director Regina Sadilkova explained that if the board voted to reject the ALR application, KGHM could then simply make its request directly to the ALC.
She also said the TNRD has no authority to deny zoning for a mining application. That would seem to leave the TNRD rather toothless on the Ajax project, but there’s still that question asked by Ken Christian: what if the TNRD board votes to oppose the mine?
How would KGHM react to that? And how would the provincial politicians who will make the ultimate decision react?