KGHM put on a full corporate press Tuesday at a public open house for its proposed Ajax mine, but the company had no answers to lingering questions on potential mine impacts.
The Polish-based corporation that took over Canada's Quadra-FNX in a transaction last year flew in senior representatives from every project in North America, as well as its Sierra Gorda project under development in Chile.
One of those former Sierra Gorda executives, who headed the feasibility study under Quadra-FNX, is now the project manager for KGHM-Ajax.
"You're asking if the buck stops here?" Howard Bradley asked in an interview. "For many things it will."
The mining engineer replaces former project manager Jim Whittaker, who left this fall when KGHM took over, by right of its 80 per cent ownership, from now-junior partner Abacus Mining & Exploration.
KGHM officials said one of the purposes of the open houses Tuesday and this evening at the Coast Kamloops Hotel and Convention Centre is to introduce the new project owner and its staff.
The company had 37 KGHM employees, including heads of mines in Arizona and Nevada, public relations staff as well as three consultants on hand. The open house, which continues today beginning at 5 p.m., was attended by what appeared to be a largely pro-Ajax crowd.
"I just talked to the personnel manager so I got my foot in the door," said Bud Jewell, a staunch proponent of mining.
Jewell chatted to KGHM officials beside a table of KGHM-branded items free for the taking, including pens and USB sticks. The corporation also kept tables of fruit, hors d'oeuvres and treats well stocked for the steady flow of people who trickled through.
One city business representative on hand estimated the evenings cost the company between $50,000 and $100,000.
But anyone wielding a sign was kept out of the room. Protester Bruce Stevens stood as a lonely sentinel at the edge of the Coast parking lot, holding a sign that warned of threat to Jacko Lake and acid mine drainage.
Inside, Lenora Starr said security guards tore up a sign carried by a First Nations woman who accompanied former Shuswap Nation Tribal Council chief Arthur Manuel.
"The security guard grabbed it and ripped it up. There was no conversation," she said. "We were told it was private property and we don't have the right to protest."
The three were nonetheless allowed into the meeting, which was largely a sedate affair with corporate executives mingling beside signs declaring the corporation's environmental, social and other policies.
"I don't look at that - I know what it says," Thompson Rivers University student Ross Marchant declared of the corporate poster board statements.
"What are they going to say? We're bad at this?"
Marchant and fellow students Ben King and Colin Bailey are studying Ajax as part of a conflict resolution class. All three said they're looking for concrete answers, science the company says is not ready.
Bradley said the company will no longer provide forecasts on when its application, the end result of dozens of studies, will be available for public viewing. It will also no longer predict when the mine will be in production, abandoning an earlier forecast of 2015, with approvals that it originally said would come this year.
"We'll take the time to go ahead and do it right," Bradley said. "There's not a timetable on it."
Whittaker, the former project manager, told Kamloops council last year the project won't go ahead without support from the City of Kamloops. Bradley said he's not familiar with that pledge and would not comment.
But he did say the City has a strong voice, including representation on a working committee.
Russell Currie, dean of TRU's school of business and economics, said the open houses appear to be an attempt to show the city and its residents the corporation's commitment to Ajax, despite having no answers to tough questions about everything from housing prices to bird habitat.
"I think they're taking all the steps they can to inform the community of their intentions and the process they're following," Currie said.
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