VICTORIA – British Columbia will not issue an environmental assessment certificate for a proposed open-pit gold and copper mine near Kamloops, ending years of controversy among residents.
Environment Minister George Heyman said the potential for significant adverse effects of the Ajax mine included poor air quality and risk to human health.
He said impacts on Indigenous heritage, grasslands and a lake meant the risks outweighed the potential benefits.
Heyman said he and Mines Minister Michelle Mungall noted significant adverse effects, 21 of which were of a moderate to high magnitude, in their decision to reject a certificate.
“Given these conclusions by the (Environmental Assessment Office) as well as the close proximity of the project to the city of Kamloops, particularly the neighbourhood of Aberdeen as well as an elementary school and a vulnerable population attending the school, we concluded the adverse effects would not likely be mitigated to an acceptable level and would therefore present an unacceptable risk,” he said.
The proposed 1,700 hectare mine is about 10 kilometres southwest of Kamloops and on the traditional lands of several First Nations bands including the Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation. The project has faced staunch opposition.
The province’s review was part of a joint initiative with the federal government, which will use British Columbia’s report as a basis for its own decision, Heyman said.
“No matter what the decision by the federal government is this project would require a provincial certificate to go ahead and the decision today is to not grant one,” he said.
The Ajax mine proposed by KGHM International has been under consideration since 2006 and the company has said it was committed to not discharging any waste water into the environment.
Project manager Chris Wild said the company was disappointed in the decision.
“This is the sort of project the community needs,” he said, adding the company has some options to consider.
“One would include a judicial review by the Supreme Court of British Columbia. No decision has been made on where we would go next.”
Several First Nations bands, environmentalists and the Green party were pleased with the decision.
Chief Fred Seymour of the Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation said rights or title to the land have never been ceded or surrendered.
“Our ancestors stood firm as we have, for the benefit of our future generations and guests in our territory,” he said in a statement.
Joe Foy of the Wilderness Committee said a decision to put an end to the destructive mine proposal is great news and that the project appears to be dead before the federal government renders its decision on the project.
The Green party said in a statement that the anti-Ajax consensus was clear in the community where city council twice voted to oppose it.
“Given the magnitude of the adverse effects and the (Environmental Assessment Office’s) recommendations not to issue a certificate, it would have been shocking for government to approve the project,” said Sonia Furstenau, the Green party member for Cowichan Valley.
The province is considering a new environmental assessment process, and Heyman said its aim is to enhance public confidence and require project proponents to work with First Nations from the beginning.
A new process would be designed to help proponents understand whether significant measures are needed before a project has a chance of being approved, Heyman said.
“I would like to focus on those projects that have a high likelihood of success, work with proponents and First Nations and communities to get through the process in an effective way, a transparent way, but in an expeditious way so that we can have good sustainable development in British Columbia.”
(The Canadian Press, CHNL)