B.C. pitches more mining investment

Mines minister pitches B.C. mining to Toronto investors, but still struggles with aboriginal opposition to major projects

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett (centre)

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett (centre)

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett made a pitch to Toronto-based mining companies to invest in B.C. Tuesday, after pressing Ottawa for approval of one of the mine projects being opposed by local aboriginal people.

It was Bennett’s second trip to Ottawa in as many months to seek federal cabinet approval of the New Prosperity copper and gold mine near Williams Lake. Bennett said in an interview from Toronto Tuesday he expects to have an answer by the end of February.

Proponent Taseko Mines has filed a court action to protest the results of the federal environmental review, which the company says did not recognize the new mine design’s use of a lined tailings pond located away from Fish Lake. Bennett wouldn’t comment on the court action, except to say it is not yet resolved.

“We have tailings ponds that are constructed that do not leach into adjacent watercourses, and that’s the central concern here from the federal panel,” Bennett said. “So it’s been our position that the mine could actually be built in such a way as to not contaminate Fish Lake.”

Bennett rang the opening bell at the Toronto stock exchange and had lunch with 50 mining and investment executives, promoting the projects that have proceeded and the B.C. government’s efforts to open more.

Production is to start this year at Red Chris, a $500 million copper and gold mine near Dease Lake expected to employ 750 people. The Roman coal mine near Tumbler Ridge is also set to start up this year, with 375 employees.

The Mount Milligan copper-gold mine northwest of Prince George started production in September, bringing the total operating mines to 19.

Red Chris is proceeding with the co-operation of the Tahltan Nation, which signed a shared decision-making deal with the B.C. government in March of 2013. With the BC Hydro grid being extend to their remote northwest B.C. territory, the Tahltan Central Council was seeing 250 exploration applications a year.

More than 60 coal licence applications were placed under a one-year suspension in December in the Klappan region, after the Tahltan objected to development work for a coal mine in the headwaters of the Nass, Skeena and Stikine Rivers.

Tahltan Central Council president Annita McPhee called the suspension a “temporary reprieve,” the first step to a protection plan for the Klappan.

“We will continue to resist any industrial development there like this Arctos project that threatens to destroy our land and culture,” McPhee said.

Bennett said the suspension is to deliver on an election promise to develop protection for the area, which the Tahltan call the Sacred Headwaters.

The B.C. government paid $20 million to Shell Canada to cancel disputed coalbed gas leases in the region in 2012.

But the government won’t do the same for the only approved coal mine project in the Klappan, Fortune Minerals’ Arctos Anthracite project, which the Tahltan oppose. Bennett emphasized that the suspension is temporary.

 

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