An open letter to Ajax
Here’s the thing.
You really need to start answering some questions publicly, through respected, independent experts, on a range of key questions.
I was pleased to hear Mr. Thompson say in local media that you are fully aware that your mining proposal cheek-by-jowl with some of Kamloops’ newest residential developments requires a far higher standard than any other in Canada, (my paraphrase). It does.
I have heard from anxious constituents in droves for many months. Their concerns are legitimate; not all are fair in how they express them. For instance, my colleague Dr. Terry Lake, the Minister of the Environment, comes under criticism for not taking a stand against your proposal. As you know, Terry will be one of the Statutory Decision Makers who will have to sign their names, yes or no, to your proposal when that day comes. He cannot take a position for or against until all the information is before him; if he did, he would disqualify himself. That would not be a good thing for anybody in Kamloops; we have a highly respected, tremendously principled scientist in Dr. Lake representing us in Kamloops-North Thompson, and both sides of the argument should be very grateful that he holds this key responsibility.
I can vouch that many of my constituents are strongly in favour of your proposal, for many reasons, especially the economic benefits you would bring. Many others are against, largely because of fears.
Those fears, as you know, include:
* What landscape will you leave behind when your mine is done?
* What are the answers to a whole range of environmental concerns that people are voicing? These include dust, diversion of ground water, over-use of our scarce fresh water resource, noise, light pollution, disturbance of aquifers, etc.
I served British Columbians as Minister of State for Mining, and so many proposals come and go. Some are now active mines, others will be. Many more have not come to fruition; some never will.
You will never build a mine at the site you propose to until you have Social Licence. This is not a trendy term; it is a fact. Until you have credibly addressed all of these concerns, you will not get a Mining Permit – which is just as essential to commencing construction as Environmental Approval. It will never be a rubber stamp; it must include every detail of construction, operation and reclamation. Please stop telling my earnestly enquiring constituents: “We will do whatever the government requires.” What government will require is that all credible, legitimate concerns are met fully by what is written in the mining permit. You must spend the money NOW to deal with all such concerns, by retaining the correct experts to advise you, and the public, on whether each concern is valid, and how you will address them. Do not expect taxpayers to pay for the engineers, scientists, remediation experts, and other professionals as your permit is considered. Since the B.C. Liberals have been in government, those companies who have tried to put the onus on taxpayers for these matters in the past have either given up, or are still floundering around.
It is not taxpayers’ responsibility to pay for your due diligence. It is government’s responsibility to thoroughly examine all concerns once they have been analyzed, documented, and met by genuine, neutral experts. Only then will the public be prepared to grant “Social Licence” for your project to proceed.
Good citizens who have been pouring their volunteer time into your “consultations” protest to me that you are burying them in paper, treadmilling the process, stonewalling and attempting to put the onus on government. If that is your approach, you will run out of resources long before you have any hope of building a mine.
If you are able to build this mine, the Highland Valley Copper example demonstrates the rewards you may reap: decades after it was expected to close, HVC still employs over 1,000 people, averaging over $120,000 in annual remuneration. HVC earned a profit, (in spite of its rich payroll) of over $1 billion in 2007, and over $750 million in 2008, (the years that I held the portfolio and am familiar with). When I recently congratulated their Union’s President on another successful negotiation of his members’ collective bargaining, he told me that not only is that remuneration figure accurate, skilled employees accepting overtime are earning up to $180,000.00! It was also his expectation that in spite of that wonderful payroll, which makes the largest contribution to our United Way every year, between employees and company matching, he believes HVC’s profits this year will be substantial. Your site may never be as large, and your remediation costs must be paid up front, and will be formidable, but obviously, your profits are likely to be huge.
I am leaving politics, but here’s some advice from a guy who has been a civil servant for almost 40 years, including 17 elected, and knows how to answer public fears and concerns with truth, and get things done in government:
* Start spending the money now, through recognized experts, to show Kamloops’ residents what the site will look like when mining is done, and the landscape remediated. Plan on paying the cost of that remediation up front, and doing it as you go, as soon as you are finished with areas, to build public confidence. Why could you not terrace the pit in such a way that it will be ready to house a subdivision when you are done, with a recreational lake at the bottom? Old pits in our region yield spectacular trout. The area doubtlessly will become an extension of Aberdeen eventually; you must not sterilize that site from housing uses. In the same way, you must contour your waste rock “pile” to be a solid hill, around which a road will wind to deliver people to their new home sites, when Ajax is done. Some of my constituents will ridicule me for suggesting this, but they should visit Butchart Gardens, one of B.C.’s most-visited tourist destinations, and a delightfully beautiful place. It was a mined-out quarry at one time! Granted it is a much smaller site than what you propose – but as a mine, it certainly never generated $ billions in profit as this site can. Rest assured that you will NEVER get “Social Licence” if people believe your site will look like HVC’s, in the long run. Either you spend the money now to earn public acceptance, or you simply will not be allowed to proceed, by the public or their elected representatives.
* On each of the environmental concerns, again, you must prove feasibility, sustainability, and therefore acceptability, by employing trusted experts and genuine, wide-open public forums, with full divulgence of data. Please stop trying to cover all concerns at one time, in hostile, brief sessions. Hold a session on the ground-water concerns of Aberdeen. I am no hydrological engineer – but there are many available. I think they will find that your project will drain nuisance ground water away from Aberdeen – not cause aggravation to existing problems. Let’s find out! Have another, separate forum, at a decent interval, on dust. Len Skakun, who ran the old pit on your site, tells me there won’t be any dust – his problem was trying to deal with the constant ground water, which naturally prevented any dust. Have another on the existence of aquifers. Another on how much fresh water your mine will consume. I believe that you should be able to constantly recycle the same water, in your operation.
Ajax, many people already like you. Please show my constituents that they can trust you – that you will spend the resources necessary to meet every legitimate concern, and that you will put the money up front to do so. I believe that if you do, you will gain “Social Licence,” and when government is satisfied that every detail is agreed and funded in advance, you will be able to proceed with the mine – and when you are done, the site will be a logical and beautiful extension of the present Aberdeen subdivision.
The modern mining industry in British Columbia has gained public respect and world-wide renown for its excellent practices, “safety-first” diligence, (for the environment, the workers, neighbours, and the public), and its remediation successes. People are still very wary of new operators and new projects, reflecting bitter past experiences. As Minister, I oversaw or participated in expensive cleanups at sites like Brittania, the Tsolum River, and Krueger Mountain in the South Okanagan. No modern permit will allow taxpayers to be stuck with tabs like those, or environmental damage of that nature.
You wish to be an industrial neighbor for a decade or three to a proud and beautiful City; to put shovels in the ground, you must first gain the confidence and respect of the vast majority of its citizens, who are prudent, vigilant, diligent and somewhat suspicious of your intentions.
Let’s end the uncertainty, fear, anxiety and acrimony. Very fine citizens of Kamloops, including a number of highly-prized specialist doctors, are seriously considering moving elsewhere because of the present uncertainties. We don’t want that to happen. Kamloops is one of the most egalitarian communities I have ever experienced, practically devoid of class-conscious snobbery, generous in every way, and foundationally proud of the wide spectrum of its economy, its proud history, and the sustainability of past and present economic activities which preserve a rare and wonderful natural environment. You have the opportunity, capacity and potential to support all of that.
I wish you well – but unless these suggestions are followed enthusiastically and promptly, I have a strong premonition we’ll all be wishing you farewell, some time in the future.
KEVIN KRUEGER, MLA
for Kamloops-South Thompson, including your site