Ajax Mining in Kamloops BC

by Ruth J. Madsen 

The second week of June in Kamloops BC, the residents were shocked to hear about a new open-pit copper mine proposed just outside of town. The local paper advertised an open house being held at a local hotel by Abacus Mining Corp. and the provincial and federal environmental assessment offices. People did a little research, and 467 people from all walks of life came to hear about this proposed project. 

The ranchers had been contacted earlier and came with many concerns. They made the rest of us aware that at least five ranches would no longer be viable if this mine went ahead.We heard concerns from people about grasslands, burrowing owls, recreation areas, lakes, fishing, toxic chemicals, and dozens of other issues. Most importantly, the residents had figured out the mine would not be 10 kilometres outside the city boundary, as listed in the mine data, but 1.5 km from the nearest two subdivisions. In fact, one-half the mine would be within the city of Kamloops. 

What we learned from the company was: 23 years of blasting, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. They told us about 400 jobs and millions of dollars per year benefit to area residents. Turns out this is a Polish company, which will own 81%, once the mine is open. Who will benefit financially, and who will be left with a devastated landscape? 

Just two months later, phase one of the environmental assessment is done, letters are in to governments, deadlines for funding are past, and 4,000 pages of documents were gathered. Most of us have also revisited and photographed the area many times. 

What is at stake here environmentally, socially, and health-wise? 

Water and Salmon 

Six water bodies are at risk if this project goes ahead. Inks Lake is slated to become a slurry pond, and one arm of Jocko Lake (a major fishing lake for the region), will become part of the mine’s open pit. It has been estimated by retired DFO personnel that the fish will be dead within five years and the lake drained within ten years. Four kilometres of Peterson Creek wetlands are to become a small stream diverted through tailings from the old Afton mine; Guerin Creek will carry the runoff from the mine down into the Thompson River (a major salmon river). Water is also to be removed from the Thompson and approximately two billion gallons per year would be removed from Kamloops Lake. Above the lake is Domtar, a huge pulp mill, and below the lake are the towns of Savona and Ashcroft, and at least three First Nations communities, all of which use the water for their drinking water source. 

Agricultural Land Reserve 

Some of the area is reclaimed grasslands in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), but the greatest portion is pristine grasslands, home to resident burrowing owls and endangered sharptailed grouse, as well as many other species that are not on red or blue lists. These ALR lands will either become a huge open pit or rock piles 200 feet high. The remainder is to become tailings 600 feet high, at the entrance to our city entrance or become the backdrop to our beautiful city. as seen from Sun Rivers or even as far away as Sun Peaks. 

Historically, this has been a major ranching area used by Kamloops residents for centuries for hiking, walking, horseback riding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, birdwatching, walking dogs, and ice skating in winter. Knutsford is the most beautiful area close to Kamloops and is full of wetlands, small lakes and wildlife, and is precious to us all. 

Health 

The health issue is a great concern. We know from the old small Afton Mine, which was 10 kilometres out of town, that this vein of copper, although sparse, is contaminated with mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and who knows what else. The two closest schools are 2 and 2.5 km from the mine site. With our regular inversions, our airshed is already overburdened because of Domtar Pulp, Lafarge Cement, many other industries and trucking happening in Kamloops, so any additional contamination will be too much, be it chemicals or dust. 

Who can we count on? Our two local MLAs either think the ore was put there by God to benefit man, or that if the ranches are no longer viable after centuries, the ranchers should get a job in the mine. Our only hope is federal: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency; or the environmental lawyers of BC and of course, ourselves, the Kamloops Area Preservation Association. 

***

Ruth Johannes Madsen is the chair of the Thompson Institute of Environmental Studies, Kamloops, BC. 

For More Information Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency: www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca Abacus Mining: www.amemining.com Kamloops Area Preservation Association: www.stopajaxmine.ca

[From WS September/October 2011]

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