Not This Mine, Not This Place

Posted by Dianne Kerr on July 6th, 2012 8:57am

What is happening in Kamloops is a microcosm of what is happening in many parts of Canada with respect to gutted environmental legislation and the determination of both the federal and provincial governments to facilitate exploitation of Canadian resources whatever the costs.  The proposal for a giant open pit copper/gold mine to locate within the City limits is also a precedent in that this is a healthy moderate sized community of 87,000 people with a balanced economy and attractive lifestyle. The City was here first with its university, regional hospital, and status as a Tournament Capital in Canada.  It currently attracts both new business and new residents without any mine in its midst.   If the senior governments can put a mine in Kamloops, no city with even low grade mineral resources like this one will be safe.  

The proposal showcases the archaic laws that govern the mining industry and disempower the local population.  The free access law enables a mining company to stake claims on property regardless of ownership.   The government sanctions expropriation of a Canadian citizen’s land and livelihood by a private, foreign corporation which operates for shareholder profit not public interest.  The proposal can be considered without any baseline studies to safeguard public health.  The approval decision rests with the federal and provincial governments who are the major beneficiaries of the tax paid by the mining company.  The City, who will bear all the social and environmental  costs, has the least tax benefit and no official say in the decision.  The mine, if approved is exempt from any City zoning bylaws or other bylaws related to noise, dust etc.  The planning process of the City is irrelevant and in the case of Kamloops, the proposed mine is located in the area planned for residential expansion.  The mine will effectively smother growth where city paid infrastructure exists to accommodate residential development. 

The size, location and special features of this proposal create a recipe for disaster if it is approved.  The Ajax giant would cover approximately 45 sq. km. of what is now unique and endangered grassland.  It would be located at the gateway to the City with stockpiles as close as 1.25 km. from an elementary school and 1.5 km. from existing housing.  The tailings and waste rock facilities would be massive, the tailings alone covering 4.2 sq. km. and towering close to 500 ft. in the air.  The open pit will be 3 sq. km. and will be 132% deeper than the Empire State Building is high.  There is no guarantee that these and the other massive waste rock facilities would not be even greater in size.  Expansion plans to extend operations into an additional 8000 acres would completely surround the southwest perimeter of the City with mining activity.  

There are many concerns regarding the location additional to the visual impact of the mine at the entrance to the City and its impact on the area of planned growth.  The proposed east waste rock facility is located above the aquifer of Peterson Creek which runs through the City 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.  The City is downwind and downslope of the proposed mine.  This means that the strong prevailing winds would blow dust from the mining operation over the majority of the City’s population.  Because of the terrain, inversions frequently occur in the valley floor where much of the population resides.  During an inversion, pollution from fugitive mine dust will be locked over the City.  The cumulative effect of this pollution combined with other pollutants poses risks to respiratory health.  There are further concerns regarding soil stability as the mine is located closest to an area where  24/7 pumping is already required to dewater in order to prevent soil instability and potential slides.  The mine will use 14.8 billion litres of water annually adding 4 times the present volume of water to this semi arid location.  If the mine proceeds, one lake will be sacrificed for process water storage and another popular recreational lake which almost abuts the western end of the open pit would also be threatened.  A further location complication is that the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline (currently considering construction to double or triple its size) runs through the mine footprint and at present wraps around the proposed western perimeter of the open pit.

Facing all of these enormous engineering and environmental challenges is a proponent who has no experience with open pit mining and with a reported global reputation as one of the worst polluters.   KGHM Polska who will be controlling the operational decisions  is a foreign company whose recent past history includes wage riots by its Polish workers.

The “fast tracked” assessment process has reportedly been described as a “rubber stamp” exercise.  The public has been denied an open public forum.  Two-thirds of the public involvement phase is complete yet there is still no 3D model to view.  Many residents remain unaware of the magnitude of the proposed giant mine.  Information meetings with limited attendance and required registration have become a microphone for the proponent to “sell” the project rather than a real dialogue with the public regarding its concerns.  The Environmental Assessment Office claims they are powerless to require full disclosure of information from the proponent.  No baseline studies have yet been presented by the proponent.  Despite repeated requests, there is still no data presented on heavy metal assay results.  There has been no accountability for false statements made by the proponent.  

The EAO has acknowledged a lack of experience in assessing a project this large within a city of this size.  It is a first.  They have also admitted a lack of expertise in socio economic matters, and the proponent has not yet been required to submit a high level socio economic impact study using recognized economic analysis models.  People wonder how fair and thorough the process can be when both senior government leaders have already stated their intentions to facilitate the approval of mining ventures and B.C. has thus far not rejected any applications.  If approved, this mine raises serious concerns with respect to monitoring and enforcement without which the mitigation strategies quickly become irrelevant.  Self reporting and self monitoring by the company provides no protection for the residents.  Regarding the effectiveness of the senior government regulatory function, the B.C. Auditor General’s report has already deemed it to be inadequate to handle even present day projects.  The oversight of the mine will be in the hands of a distant and ineffectual watchdog.

The proposed Ajax mine will approach the size of the largest copper mine in Canada, the Highland Valley mine.  It will blast and crush 205,000 tons of ore and waste rock daily.  It will use 91,000 litres of diesel (a known carcinogen) daily.  So how can we even consider building such a health risk in a city?  The standard response is economic development – jobs, taxes, spin off.  The number of jobs promised is 380 ( less than 1% of existing employment) but no one will be accountable if that number of jobs do not materialize.  Recent legislation enabling the hiring of foreign workers at lower wages, the growing trend of subcontracting mining jobs, the practice of transfer pricing which allows work to be done in another country (like engineering or research and development) and charged out to the company in Canada) and the use of technology to replace mining jobs makes it questionable how many jobs will actually be available to local citizens.  The extreme low grade of this deposit makes it more vulnerable than most to fluctuations in metal prices and more likely to operate intermittently with long periods of layoffs when prices go down.  Factored into the economic equation should also be the potential to lose jobs from employers who will no longer consider locating in Kamloops if the mine proceeds  

The main recipient of tax and royalty dollars will be the senior governments, although the B.C. portion will be partly negated by the large hydro subsidies it gives the mine and the $3.2 million it has already paid the company in exploration grants.   The City, who tax only mine buildings, receives a much smaller tax benefit.  This tax assessment may not even be sufficient to cover possible increases in infrastructure costs triggered by mining operations.  The Mayor of Sudbury describes his role as that of a “beggar” when referring to the enormous costs mining activities have left his city to wrestle with.  

It is difficult to quantify so called “spin off” benefits.  Certainly local suppliers of mining materials and services will benefit if the company does all its purchasing locally.  Whether wages are spent in the community will largely depend on the nature of the hiring practices as foreign workers and subcontracted employees will create a more transient worker not as likely to spend in the local area.  Losses also have to be considered.  Currently the “Tournament Capital” generates some $11.7 million annually (2010).   It is  likely that this revenue will be jeopardized if decision makers see non mining communities as preferable locations for their events.  

By far the biggest economic benefit will go to the foreign company whose profits are likely to go out of the country and to the Asian customer who will process the copper. But the environmental, health and social costs will all be born by the local community.  On a cost/benefit basis this is 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.  What will the decision be?  Stay tuned, as the outcome here will presage what may be coming to a city near you.   

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.


Hilda Lehto on 2012-07-07 09:02:37

good artical... worth reading ..and very much my exact feelings about this mine coming to my town...My husband and I grew up here and our two grown daughters and their families live husband suffers from asthma and is very bothered from the excisting air polution...if this mine comes to our fair city we will have to consider moving away from all our friends and family here and going some where where there is better air to breath....I always thought clean air was my right...but looks like the government is now selling our right to breath clean air @#%^*I will be remembering this when I next go to the polls I can tell you.... I have already wrote many letters to government....mosty all I get back from them is "thank you for your concern" but they are still going ahead with the mine...grrr ...very frusturating

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