EDITORIAL – Council’s position on Ajax isn’t just a simple yes or no

An Armchair Mayor editorial by Mel Rothenburger

THURSDAY’S meeting between City council and SLR Consulting was an oddly subdued affair, given the importance of the topic.

On Monday, residents had a chance to ask questions about SLR’s study of the Ajax mine application; on Thursday it was council’s turn. Many of the questions were similar to the Monday town hall, at least on subject matter.

While topics were similar, though, the meeting in council chambers was somewhat sparsely attended, maybe due to the fact it was live-streamed so people could watch it at home. Councillors politely asked a few questions each before yielding to a colleague, circling the table several times during the three hours.

Dust control, environmental matters, Jacko Lake, property values were among the questions raised by the five councillors (Coun. Pat Wallace was absent due to medical reasons) present. Their questions, however, tended to be more specific. Coun. Donovan Cavers, for example, was particularly concerned about dust, and the KGHM Ajax claim it can mitigate it by 90 per cent.

He questioned SLR’s Paul Draycott on the assumption that winter dust would be less serious than summer. When Draycott said there are no details on seasonal dust levels, Cavers retorted that KGHM’s application is 18,000 pages “and still no details.”

Coun. Tina Lange also questioned the 90 per cent figure, suggesting 70 per cent might be realistic.

Draycott was also asked several questions about property values, with Lange saying it’s not necessarily true that they will rebound in time. She and Cavers both felt a monetary compensation program should be in place for affected property owners, something that’s not proposed in the report.

Coun. Ken Christian wondered if some Highland Valley Copper employees will relocate to Ajax to live closer to where they work, diluting “the potential for the indirect benefits to the community.”

Draycott said that’s possible, but there could also be benefits to the Thompson-Nicola Regional District with some workers choosing to live in rural areas. He also acknowledged that a lot of employees may be hired from elsewhere to fill some of the jobs.

And Lange said in-migration might be offset by people who leave town because of the mine. The effect of the mine on retirees with health issues wasn’t looked at, said Draycott.

One of the most important points made at the meeting was with respect to a scenario in which Ajax is approved with conditions. SLR’s report makes a number of recommendations on the question of setting conditions. An independent environmental monitor could be part of the package.

This is a tricky business. City staffer Jen Fretz, who has been leading the City’s own examination of the project, said council has a couple of choices on its recommendation to senior government. It can support the project with conditions, or it can oppose the project but ask for conditions if it’s approved against City council’s wishes.

It seems to me that, in a sense, if councillors oppose the mine but ask for conditions, it has the appearance of weakening its position. It could make it easier for a mine-hungry provincial government to justify a green light. On the other hand, simply objecting to it could backfire later.

Council will vote July 17 on its recommendation to senior governments, and it’s now expected it will oppose Ajax due to numbers. Councillors Lange, Dieter Dudy, Denis Walsh and Cavers are all on record as being against it.

Acting Mayor Arjun Singh and Wallace are question marks, and Christian won’t be part of the vote because he’s chosen to resign — in order to run for mayor — before the vote is taken. Hopefully, he’ll state a position anyway so that all councillors are on record.

About Mel Rothenburger (5873 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

9 Comments on EDITORIAL – Council’s position on Ajax isn’t just a simple yes or no

  1. Jerome Farrell // June 25, 2017 at 7:11 PM // Reply

    I was very surprised when Ken Christian brought up the question of any examples of towns where the physicians left .SLR had no answers to this question.That Malartic in Quebec was not quoted is an omission,their physician left.
    In addition this Open Pit continues to defy the authorities despite the more stringent Quebec Mining Regulations.
    Could be the fact it is a very rich GOLD/copper mine

  2. Trish Keegan // June 25, 2017 at 4:15 PM // Reply

    No waffling. Just say no!

  3. ajaxtoobigtooclose // June 23, 2017 at 10:09 AM // Reply

    It would be helpful if the city administrators could comment on the factors involved in the practical application of the SLR recommendations.

    There is no mention in the recommendations of terms of reference or methods for enforcing a monitoring program reporting to the city. To date, the provincial resources have not found an effective method for enforcing an effective method for monitoring and enforcement of mining regulations. It’s not clear why SLR thinks the city would be more capable.

    It would be interesting to know whether city administrators and legal department think that the recommendations have any practical utility.

    If the city administrators and lawyers determine that the recommendations only appear to provide some reassurance of protection, but have scant possibility of actual being applied by any known authority, and a tiny possibility of being enforced, then the recommendations are only nominal (recommendations in name only). If the recommendations are only present for the purpose of having something in the recommendations section of the report, then they have no value and should not be discussed by council in its response to the proposed mine.

  4. I had a few takeaways from the meeting…

    1) The ‘Pro’ crowd did a fantastic job of mobilizing bodies to wear the ugly shirts and attempt to intimidate through numbers. However, that group appeared to be largely comprised of retirees… to the extent that I wondered whether a bus had been sent around to the local retirement homes.

    2) At one point, the crowd was asked if the presenter could speak for another five minutes. The shirts all groaned ‘nooooo!’ Why? If they were there to hear facts and learn, why wouldn’t they want to listen for another five minutes? The answer was clear to me – facts aren’t of interest. They’ve already made up their minds. Science is irrelevant and their only desire is for their grandkids to (maybe) get a job that pays well without any sort of post-secondary education. In a sense, this supported my thoughts in (1) above.

    3) I heard only two people from the ‘pro’ side ask questions. Frankly, those questions weren’t really that good and got shot down quickly as being based on incorrect assumptions. The remainder and vast majority of the questions came from the people who wanted elaboration on some of the facts that had been glossed over during the presentation. The questions/answers did nothing to improve the image of the project – in fact, just the opposite.

    4) While some might assume it’s a battle between pro and anti industry people, I’m seeing it more in terms of a disagreement between people who put health and quality of life ahead of profit, versus those who have no interest in science and simply want the financial benefits they’ve been promised. Quality of life pitted against monetary gain. If the mine was another 10 or 20 km from town, I seriously doubt the level of concern would be nearly as high.

    All in all, both sides were respectful of the process in the room… but it’s clear the City is very divided on this project.

  5. Lawrence Beaton // June 23, 2017 at 9:41 AM // Reply

    Given the feelings of the incoming provincial government and first nations towards industrialization of the Interior, I don’t think that we have to worry about Ajax coming into existence.

  6. I don’t understand why all of these counsellors are voting with their personal opinion rather than the opinion of the community or their constituents? The citron or green shirts at the town hall on Monday evening showed the majority in that room clearly in favor. I thought the job description of a counsellor was to represent their constituents? It should not matter what their personal opinions are, I’m confused. On a lighter note, all those sharp tongues that condemned Ajax for buying those “ugly shirts” should check their facts? I think they were donated by a group of supporters!?! Why would it be so wrong if had bought the shirts, they paid for most of the SLR report anyways? I just hope they were bought in Kamloops!
    How many of the ‘blue shirt people’ have driven past New Afton? Kamloops didn’t pick up and move when they opened? It makes me laugh that people think because it’s an underground mine they are creating no pollution or dust? The distance of that mine is really quite similar to that of Ajax, from a lot of the city. As the crow flies, or should I say as the dust flies.

    • I was there also and yes ,as much as those free t shirts handed out by KGHM were made so brightly to stand out, the room was definitely divided. In fact I saw quite the opposite and believe more were definitley opposed. Near the end most supporters had long gone. Also the majority of the elderly ones wearing and advertising those free shirts KGHM provided , were most likely share holders and concerned about lining their own pockets ,just as KGHM is hoping for the exact same thing. They didn’t buy those t- shirts out of the kindness of their hearts,they were bought for free advertising for the company. They are completely self centered, much the same as the share holders , both wanting this Gigantic mine built on the edge of our city for the money , to fill their own needs , and without thought to the rest of us, or our future generation. Did you also see the 6 Dr.s taking the time out of their tiring schedules to stand up with concerning questions of their own? One asking the SLR panel if they would drink a tall glass of water put in front of them with the increased arsenic levels proposed? None of them said yes by the way. This company is known for treating their workers badly and right now has multiple environmental infractions against it. And now this Polish company wants to risk our homes , our City , and our health . A city known as the tournament capitol of BC with 100,000 residents ,and put the largest mine in Canada right on our doorstep .No thank you! I’d rather my family go without, then have this mine built so close to town. One things for sure if it is built, we will all be the guinea pigs, and most of the time, guinea pigs don’t fare very well.

  7. A strong “No” position is best, in my opinion. There is nothing stopping the city from continuing to talk to KGHM and the CEAA and the BCEAO. If they say “No, but if you do it anyways we would like a, b and c” that is a mixed weak message.

    The FN have done s good job in this regard. City council needs to (finally) stop being so wishy washy and take a non-watered down stand!

    • Cindy Ross Friedman // June 23, 2017 at 9:51 AM // Reply

      I agree with Cara. Moreover, the whole premise begs the question: can the Province really run roughshod on a City that says “no” to the mine? Everyone seems to assume that the Province can override a City’s will. I am not convinced that this is necessarily the case… Think about the jurisdiction of all the infrastructure, permissions, services, etc. needed by a mine. And also consider that the government is changing in the Province. The relationship with the City will be paramount. The right outcome can be achieved with creativity, chutzpah, and finesse.

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