Province denies environmental permit for Ajax open-pit mine near Kamloops

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      The B.C. government today refused to issue an environmental-assessment certificate to the proponents of an open-pit gold-and-copper mine near Kamloops.

      In a joint news release sent out Thursday afternoon (December 14), Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman and Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources Minister Michelle Mungall announced the decision to deny the certificate to KGHM Ajax Mining Inc.

      The same day, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) said in a release that Catherine McKenna, federal minister of environment and climate change, has referred the mine proposal to Natural Resources Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to get a "final decision from Cabinet on whether the project can proceed".

      The CEAA noted that McKenna found that the Ajax mine "is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects and cumulative effects to Indigenous heritage and the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by Indigenous peoples".

      According to the B.C. release: "The company proposed a 1,700-hectare open-pit copper and gold mine, located approximately 10 kilometres southwest of Kamloops and on the asserted traditional territories of the Stk'emlupsemc te Secwépemc Nation (SSN), Ashcroft Indian Band, Lower Nicola Indian Band, and Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band.

      "Having considered the Environmental Assessment Office’s (EAO) summary assessment report, the EAO and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s joint federal comprehensive study and assessment report, the recommendation of the executive director of the EAO not to issue a certificate; and submissions from the SSN, the City of Kamloops and the company, the ministers concluded that taken as a whole, the potential, and in many cases significant, adverse effects of the Ajax project outweighed the potential benefits."

      Chris Wild, KGHM Ajax project manager in Kamloops, told the Georgia Straight he didn't have much to say at this time because of a lack of details, saying: "We're processing it...We've put more than six years of hard work into this plan...It's an economic driver for the province of B.C. So, yes, the decision is a bit disappointing."

      He also said there had been "an extensive consultation process with First Nations".

      Asked what KGHM Ajax might do in response to the provincial decision, Wild said: "We haven't formulated any plans going forward at this time."

      The Stk'emlupsemc te Secwépemc Nation conducted its own project assessment and turned down the Ajax proposal last spring, citing cultural and spiritual values associated with the land to be impacted, especially around Jacko Lake.

      A December 14 news release by the Kamloops-based Shuswap Nation Tribal Council chair, Kukpi7 Wayne Christian, noted that "Secwepemc leaders, communities and members stand in solidarity with SSN in their Pípsell [Jacko Lake] Decision. In June 2017, together with the Secwepemc Nation, the Pípsell area was declared a Secwepemc Cultural Heritage Site signifying the importance of this area’s connection to Secwepemc Law."

      He also wrote: "The Ajax Mine Project in its proposed location at Pípsell (Jacko Lake and area) is in opposition to the SSN’s land use objective for this culturally important and historically significant keystone site which significance is fundamental and undiminished."

      Kamloops city council voted last July to oppose the $1.3-billion project that KGHM said would provide 1,800 temporary jobs and 500 full-time jobs for the duration of the mine's estimated 23-year life. The company and the city had earlier agreed that almost $4 million in annual benefits would flow to the community.

      The B.C. government release cited some main areas of concern in turning down the certificate, including: "Fifty-three residual and cumulative adverse effects across the five pillars assessed by the EAO (environmental, economic, social, heritage, and health) in areas such as air quality and human well-being, Jacko Lake and surrounding area, social and economic valued components, as well as grasslands and ecosystems."

      The two ministers also noted "significant adverse effects to Indigenous heritage and to the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes".