Dust Mitigation Strategies

Posted by Dianne Kerr on July 12th, 2012 10:20am

The following letter was written and sent to the Editor of the Daily News and Kamloops This Week back in February.    

Will whatever mitigation strategies required of the proposed Ajax Mine be irrelevant?  Regardless of your pro or con position related to the mine, that question should be a concern to all of us.   The truth is that the mitigation strategies are powerless to protect the public well being unless they are regularly and stringently monitored, and rigorously enforced.  The public needs to be aware that although the mine operation is located within City boundaries, it is exempt from municipal bylaws including those pertaining to dust, noise and water usage.   I presume that the approving bodies, ie. the province and the federal government will be our only recourse if we feel the mitigation is either not effective or not being followed as directed.  

What is the track record of these federal and provincial agencies with respect to monitoring?  Not great if you ask the asbestos workers in Eastern Canada with whom I worked for two years.  Even our own experience with Afton Mine reveals inadequacies in the monitoring process.  We had particulate emissions from this mine which exceeded  the required levels for a long time before the non-compliance was ever noted.  Fingers pointed in many directions but the assigning of blame did not help alleviate the fact that the citizens of Kamloops weren’t protected by any “mitigation strategy” for many, many months.  Even the B.C. Auditor General’s Report reveals serious concerns that there is inadequate monitoring of major projects with environmental and social impacts.  This situation will only get worse as both the province and federal politicians continue to cut back staffing in their environment departments while they approve more major mining projects to oversee.  When this proposed mine location includes a Kinder Morgan pipeline extremely close to a substantial portion of the perimeter of the open pit in an area known for its soil instability,  the consequences of inadequate monitoring could be serious both to people and to the environment.  

What is currently passing for the “environmental management plan” (monitoring) is a process whereby the proponent evaluates its own performance and compliance (a bit like the fox overseeing the henhouse) and submits reports to various senior government agencies for review.  A community advisory group is proposed but what power it will have is unclear.  Typically it is difficult to retain membership in a community voluntary group over many years and also difficult to recruit members with the type of expertise that would be useful to ensure that there is compliance with mitigation measures.  There needs to be more.  There should be periodic follow up by experts independent of the mine to verify the accuracy of the mine’s data related to compliance.  The selection of these outside experts should be made by the regulatory bodies with input from the City.

The next question is what happens if there are instances of non-compliance?  At present, the process to enforce compliance is 1) discussion and then 2) fines.  How big will those fines be?  Will they be sufficient to act as a real deterrent?  If there are major issues of non-compliance, do the regulatory bodies have the legal authority to shut the mine down until the problems are resolved?  Do the provincial and federal regulatory bodies have the will to shut the mine down for major non-compliance?  For example, if we experience a severe water shortage (entirely possible in our semi arid location) will the provincial and federal regulatory bodies enforce on the mine a curtailment of water use or even a cessation of water use?  The citizens of Kamloops will have municipal legalities regarding their water usage.  What  will be the enforcement measures the federal and provincial regulatory bodies are prepared to use to control the mine’s use of water?   How long will it take them to act?

There are a myriad of risk factors related to this mine operating within the City limits  and they include issues essential to our well-being, like air quality, water,  and  safety concerns related to soil instability.  Yet there seems to be a blind trust that mitigation will protect us if the mine goes ahead.  Ultimately the effectiveness of the mitigation strategies to protect the public is only as good as the data used to create the strategies and the monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance.  These last two particularly have been woefully inadequate in the past and appear to be increasingly inadequate at the present time.  There are too many risks to people and the environment to allow this project to proceed without stringent monitoring and enforcement of compliance in place.   Without that, both the people who might work in the mine and the people who live in the community will be at risk. 

Dianne Kerr is a former Kamloops City Councillor and member of the City planning commission in Kamloops, as well as economic development chair. She also served 2 terms as a TNRD Board Member, 5 years on the BC Environmental Appeal Board, 11 years on the Open Learning Agency Board, and 5 years on the Board of the Knowledge Network as a Member of the Canadian team assisting in the establishment of Environmental Impact Assessments in Thailand.


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