Future impact: residents and City want answers about operation

The Ajax File: All That Glitters - Part 4 of 5

The fastest growing area in Kamloops - and the one with the most land to allow that growth - faces the possibility of the Ajax gold and copper mine being its neighbour.

That wasn't in the cards when the City adopted the Aberdeen Area Plan on Nov. 18, 2008. It called for the need to accommodate more than 10,000 new residents in Aberdeen in the coming years.

That area designated for future growth could now include Ajax's tailings storage, a waste rock pile, processing plant, waste crusher and process and runoff ponds. The mine itself is just outside the boundary, 1.75 kilometres from the nearest existing homes.

"It's the biggest area we have for growth," said City community and development manager Randy Lambright.

The City projects Kamloops' population to reach 126,000 by 2036. Half of that growth is expected in the southwest, 20 per cent as infill in the downtown and Tranquille market areas and 10 per cent each in the southeast, northeast (including Sun Rivers) and northwest.

"So it's a critical part of our growth strategy," he said.

Mayor Peter Milobar said the City will seek information before taking a stand, but it has no final say in the mine's approval. That's in the hands of federal and provincial officials.

"I know it seems like we're trying to pass the buck or not take responsibility. I don't want to mislead people into thinking we have more power than we actually have," he said.

At this stage, City council and staff are putting together a list of questions to go to Ajax mine proponent Abacus for study and detailed answers.

"We're trying to gather as much information as we can. We will share it with the public when we get it," said Milobar.

Residents have to remember Kamloops has a history of reliance on resource industries, he said. "With our geography that we have and the resources surrounding us and we're the geographic hub of those resources, it's going to be a significant part of our economy for some time to come."

"To think we won't still have some form of resource-based economy here when we're in the middle of rocks and trees, that's a little unrealistic, too."

On the other hand, the Kamloops economy has been moving away from relying too heavily on those rocks and trees, he noted.

"As our economy keeps diversifying, the resource sector will be less of the dominant players. But to think they won't exist or be fairly significant, we'd be kidding ourselves."

Coun. Pat Wallace said she loves Kamloops the way it is, but resources are an economic factor here.

"Not everyone has a university education, not everyone wants one. We still need mechanics, repairmen, etc. I see it as being a good mix for the community with a good mix of people and their skills."

She hasn't got enough information about Ajax to make up her mind on whether it's a good fit, though.

"Staff have put together some really good questions. I look forward to the answers. If I don't like the answers, we'll be asked our opinion. My answer will be no."

Wallace said she supports anything that offers jobs that doesn't impact the city in a negative way.

"With the mine, the number of jobs sounds positive, but the impact can be worrisome," she said.

City environmental and sustainability services manager Jen Fretz said questions are being compiled to go to Ajax proponent Abacus for answers.

"This is just the first set of questions. There will be more detailed ones to follow," she said. The first round of answers are anticipated in fall.

The just-completed Kamloops Sustainability Plan sets out goals as far as 2050, with the priority being a clean, healthy community for everyone to thrive and recreate in.

There will still be industry, but it has to be balanced with quality of life and environment.

Andrew Ramlo, director at the Vancouver planning consultation firm of Urban Futures, said there are towns in B.C. built up around mining, like Trail, or Coalmont.

But in the case of Kamloops and Ajax, the city is already established.

"I can't say I know of any really pretty mining or really pretty industrial towns," Ramlo said.

"But some do a better job of trying to mitigate the images that come along with that. The economic, environment and social are integrally tied together."

Kamloops civic leaders have to decide what their vision is for their city.

"What does Kamloops envision for itself? What does it want to be when it grows up? You need a strong voice on that," he said.

"Everyone wants to chase high tech and tourism, but you look at the jobs they provide within your city, it's a relatively small share. Mining, energy and fuels are the two most significantly growing export sectors for B.C."

Fretz said an environmental working group has been created with representatives from Abacus, the City, a list of government agencies and others. Abacus will have to learn what Kamloops is about, she said.

"We're not built around the mine. They're going to be built around us."

Lambright said that means asking how much the mine operation can be shaped and molded to fit into the City's plan.

But the bottom line is, municipalities have no say when it comes to extraction of mineral resources. And there are mineral claims peppered throughout the area in and around Kamloops, Lambright said.

© Copyright 2018 Kamloops Daily News