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.