For all the questions it left unanswered, the KGHM International letter to mayor and council, released just before the weekend, answered, in a sense, the biggest and most troublesome question of all. And the answer is, strangely but almost predictably, that it cannot be answered.
It confirms that the ultimate impact of Ajax is a riddle wrapped in an enigma.
The 18-page letter, written in response to a query from the City of Kamloops almost two years ago, is full of non-answers on a wide range of issues. Page after page, point by point, it begins with phrases like “We are currently completing…,” “We are conducting…,” “We are currently generating…,” “We are working on…,” and “We are still quantifying….”
It comes as part of a promise by the project’s external affairs manager Yves Lacasse that KGHM will be more open and transparent about progress on its plans to build an open-pit copper mine straddling the south boundary of Kamloops.
In fairness, though the letter is long overdue, it at least attempts to provide a status update.
It begins by explaining that the company didn’t intend to mislead anyone by stating the mine would be 10 km. away. What it meant, the letter says, is that it would be 10 km. “driving distance” from the city.
Why, one must ask, did it take close to two years to clarify something so simple? There are many other questions with respect to environmental impacts, for example, that remain unanswered. But the company is working on them.
One major issue, the fate of Jacko Lake, is answered succinctly and without much reassurance.
“What will be the quality of Jacko Lake as a fishing lake if a 450m deep open-pit is located immediately adjacent?” asked the City’s letter, submitted by environmental services supervisor Jen Fretz in July 2011.
Indeed, Jacko Lake has been the subject of much concern ever since it became evident that KGHM proposes its giant hole in the ground immediately next to it.
The answer provided by KGHM is this: “Reports completed for the historic Afton Mine indicate that no complaints were received from Jacko Lake users during operation. Our socio-economic research will address impacts to fishing and other recreational opportunities and we are considering building a berm to block noise, sight, and dust from impacting lake users.”
There isn’t anything at all new in that. The maps and scale models have long shown that the pit will be virtually on the edge of the lake, and that a berm is supposed to protect it. The larger question is, will the pit, many times deeper than the lake, and the effect of the blasting, fracture the lake bottom and cause Jacko to drain?
But here is the one Really Big question, and the answer without an answer.
The City’s letter: “What will be the impact (positive and negative) on the quality of life for Kamloops residents as a result of mining operations?”
Lacasse’s answer: “This is a subjective question and the impact will certainly vary from resident to resident. We know that the economic impact will be positive and any negative environmental impacts will be mitigated as thoroughly as possible. This is a very difficult question to quantify and may require additional research once the mine is in operation.”
It is, indeed, subjective and hard to quantify. Yet the impact on the quality of life in Kamloops, on the vision of what this community wants itself to be, is the most important question of all.
And yet, it can’t possibly be answered until after the mine is in operation. Then, the answer will be all around us.