Will Province allow monster open pit mine in Kamloops?

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A giant open pit copper and gold mine, Ajax Mine, is proposed for Kamloops, within City limits and less than two kilometres from an elementary school and housing.

If approved, the mine would be exempt from City bylaws governing zoning, noise and dust. The proposal includes a 500-foot high tailings facility covering more than four square kilometres and without guarantees that it, and other massive rock piles, will not be larger.

The mine proposal, currently in the assessment process, showcases how B.C.’s archaic mining laws overrule planning decisions by municipalities and regional districts.

The project is run by KGMH Polska Miedź, a company whose recent history includes wage riots by unionized Polish miners.  

How can such a proposal even be considered by the BC government? The Union of B.C. Municipalities would do well to take note. B.C.’s “free entry” system allows the staking of mineral claims virtually anywhere, even on private land that can be expropriated against the wishes of the landowner.

Kamloops, a community of 87,000 people with a balanced economy and attractive lifestyle, has no official say in this decision. The mine site intrudes on the area planned for residential expansion.

There are schools located just 1.25 kilometres away from the proposed site. Curtailed growth in this area will affect existing City planning and the taxpayer financed infrastructure built to accommodate residential development. It will be a gamechanger for builders in the area.whose development plans were based on the Official Community Plan.

The size, location and special risks of this project cause serious concerns. The present mine proposal would cover over 25 square kilometres, most of it endangered grassland. This proposal may only be the thin end of the wedge as much of the land in and around Kamloops is in mineral claim.

A location complication is that the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline currently runs through the site and borders part of the perimeter of the proposed 1,640 foot deep open pit.

More concerns relate to the proposed location of the eastern waste rock facility above the aquifer of Peterson Creek. Since this creek runs through Kamloops and empties into the Thompson River, any toxic leachate from the rock pile would have an aquatic route to affect the river’s world-famous salmon run.

One lake will be sacrificed for mine use and another popular fishing lake is threatened.

The mine will blast and crush 205,000 tons of ore and waste rock daily. Kamloops is downwind and downslope of the proposed mine.

This means the strong prevailing winds would blow fugitive dust from mining operations over the majority of the population. Because of the terrain, inversions frequently occur in the valley where most people live. During an inversion, pollution from mine dust will be locked over the city. The cumulative effect of this pollution combined with other pollutants poses serious health questions.

There are further concerns regarding soil stability as the mine is located close to an area where pumping is already required around the clock to de-water in order to prevent soil instability and potential slides. The mine would use 14.8 billion litres of lake water annually, adding several times the present volume of water. What evaporates will increase haze and fog; what enters the soil and aquifers poses even more serious risks.

Despite the enormous impact of the mine on the City, there is still no data presented on baseline studies or heavy metal assay results. People wonder how fair and thorough the process can be when government leaders have already stated their intentions to facilitate the approval of mining ventures and B.C. has historically approved almost all mining applications.

About 380 jobs are promised but no one will be accountable if that number of jobs does not materialize. Also, the low grade of the deposit makes it more vulnerable to market slumps and resulting layoffs. Many question whether the City truly needs these jobs since it is already in a strong position for job creation. City tax benefits are expected to be minimal, and would hardly offset risks of increased infrastructure costs.

All the environmental, health and social costs will be borne by the local community.

Considering the costs and benefits, this is simply a bad deal for Kamloops. The decision on the Ajax mine is a future-altering choice that will forever change the healthy community its citizens have worked hard to create, yet the local people won't be able to decide.

It’s time for BC to re-write its antiquated mining laws to ensure that Kamloops and other communities can make responsible decisions about what type of development happens within city limits.

Whatever the province decides in Kamloops presages what may be coming to a city near you, as much of the province is under mineral claim. 

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