British Columbia

Environmental assessment sinks proposed Ajax mine near Kamloops

The provincial government has opted not to issue an environmental assessment certificate for a proposed open-pit copper and gold mine near Kamloops.

KGHM's proposed open-pit copper and gold mine would have spanned 1,700 hectares

The proposed Ajax Mine would have been located south of Kamloops. (KGHM)

The provincial government has opted not to issue an environmental assessment certificate for a proposed open-pit copper and gold mine near Kamloops, prompting applause from the city and local First Nations.

The 1,700-hectare Ajax mine proposed by KGHM would have been located about 10 kilometres southwest of Kamloops on the traditional territories of the Stk'emlupsemc te Secwépemc Nation (SSN), Ashcroft Indian Band, Lower Nicola Indian Band and Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band.

According to a statement from the provincial environment and mines ministries, an environmental assessment found too many negative impacts for the proposal in areas such as air quality and local ecosystems.

"Given these conclusions and the close proximity of Ajax to the City of Kamloops … including an elementary school, the ministers concluded the adverse effects would not likely be mitigated to an acceptable level and would therefore present an unacceptable risk," a government news release said.

Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian told CBC News that the risks were just too great.

"It was a divisive item that now we can put behind us," he said. "We were hoping for this rejection and now we've got it."

Unacceptable impacts on First Nations

The province also says the proposal posed unacceptable negative effects on First Nations' traditional use of land in the area, as well as the rights and title asserted specifically by the SSN First Nation.

The SSN conducted its own review of the mine and rejected it earlier this year.

A statement from the SSN leadership said they were "exuberant" to hear the news and recognized the provincial government for upholding the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"We Secwépemc have never ceded or surrendered our rights or title. Our ancestors stood firm as have we, for the benefit of our future generations and guests in our territory," the SSN statement said.

In a conference call with reporters, Environment Minister George Heyman said that the decision should not be taken as evidence that Indigenous groups have veto power over development in B.C.

"I would say that we are working as a government in partnership with First Nations for future environmental assessments," he said.

Proposal heads back to feds

In a separate statement, Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna echoed the conclusions of the province about the adverse impacts of the mine proposal.

She said she has now referred the project back to Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Natural Resources Canada, who will have to ask cabinet to make the final decision on whether the project will go ahead.

But Heyman said that even if the feds decide to push ahead with the mine, KGHM will still require an environmental assessment certificate from the province.

Yves Lacasse, KGHM's external affairs manager for the Ajax project, thanked staff for their hard work in a note posted to Facebook.

The mine was expected to produce up to 24 million tonnes of ore per year over a 23-year lifetime.

The company has said the mine would create 500 full-time jobs once it was up and running and another 1,800 during construction. KGHM had also reached an agreement with Kamloops on annual community benefits worth $3.8 million.

Even so, Kamloops city council voted this summer to officially oppose the mine, saying it was too close to city limits.