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LETTER – Don’t let better regulations to protect communities fall by the wayside

Letter to Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver:

September 25, 2018

Dear Honourable Mayor Robertson,

I’m writing today because I want to draw your attention to comments made by one of our local news people (former editor of the now closed Kamloops Daily News and our former mayor), Mel Rothenburger, on the recent decision at the September 2018 UBCM, not to endorse Resolution B-134, a resolution taken to the meeting by three Kamloops City Councilors.

He mentions that as the resolution was 134th out of 200, he wonders if (by the time number 134 came up for discussion) everyone had grown weary and the power to discuss and debate had waned. He also says that he wonders if others in the province really feel connected to what happened in Kamloops over a long, painful six-year environmental assessment process for the proposed Ajax Mine (six years that I would say in many ways paralyzed our community both socially and economically). He wonders if other participants at the UBCM would have responded differently to Resolution 134 if an open pit mining proposal of the same magnitude and proximity had come to their own community.

The purpose of Resolution B-134, and Resolution B-80, which was endorsed at the 2013 UBCM, was to shine a light on, and bring about changes to, the current BC Mineral Tenure Act. In 2013, The Honourable Mayor Josie Osborne of Tofino who created Resolution B-80, had this to say about taking the resolution before her own Council:

[It] passed unanimously at Council (and we have a wide range of political views on our Council – but this was not a resolution for or against mining, but rather to increase the say of local governments and First Nations) and I suspect it piqued the interest of our councillors because there is a copper mine proposed for Catface Mountain, a few nautical miles north of Tofino in Clayoquot Sound. (from a personal email message)

Following this unanimous vote in Tofino, the resolution was taken before the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC), which is “the longest established area association under the umbrella of the Union of BC.” With more than 200 members in the AVICC, all with differing ideas about land use decisions in relation to proposed industrial projects, AGAIN there was a unanimous vote on Resolution B-80. With this much support, it isn’t exactly surprising that the Resolution was endorsed at the September 2013 UBCM.

Yet still, there is no clear picture on what reform, if any, of the Mineral Tenure Act has been done, or may yet be done. This is why it is so disappointing to see that the most recent resolution (B-134) from Kamloops was not passed.

It is my opinion that Resolution B-134 came about because our local government understands (through experience) that municipalities need proximity protection from, and an opportunity to weigh-in on, land use proposals that get close to, and/or come into conflict with, existing residential areas and planned residential growth margins. In the case of Kamloops, expensive infrastructure investments were put in place to grow the city to the southwest, but this was before it was known that a closed mining site a very short distance beyond that growth margin might actually be proposed as a mining site once again.

Millions of dollars invested are just that, invested. If taxpayers’ dollars are already sitting in an infrastructure investment – the municipality is out those dollars when they suddenly have to shift the course of development into another geographical direction. Resolution 134 really is a resolution that any municipality should want to support.

Here is what Mayor Osborne wrote in the Times Colonist on April 12, 2013 about the importance of seeing a change come to the Mineral Tenure Act:

B.C.’s Mineral Tenure Act is based on the “free entry” system that has been abandoned by many other jurisdictions, including Alberta. Free entry allows miners to pay a minimal fee to stake a claim virtually anywhere in B.C., without first consulting or obtaining approval from the B.C. government, First Nations or local governments. Once a mineral claim is registered, it creates a legal entitlement that overrides other land uses.
In other words, the law precludes municipalities and regional districts from making decisions about the type of development they want and don’t want in their own communities. The free-entry system is therefore an obstacle to sound regional and community planning, and the root cause of much of the conflict we see around mining today in B.C.

She concludes:

A modernized B.C. Mineral Tenure Act would designate some common-sense areas that are off-limits to mineral claims and leases, such as private and residential lands, dedicated community amenities such as recreational areas, watersheds, fish-bearing waterways, ecologically sensitive areas, private conservation lands and other areas incompatible with mining for environmental, First Nations or health reasons. (From ‘It’s time for B.C. to modernize its mining Act,’ Time Colonist, April 20, 2013)

Mayor Robertson, I hope that I can call on you to help. When wildfire smoke impacted the air in the Greater Vancouver region and the question came – “What will we do to protect people’s health in times of degraded, and even dangerous air quality?” – all eyes were on you and your municipal government. Very quickly, the issue of degraded air became a focused topic, even though many other B.C. communities had been suffering with horrendous air for weeks. It is this kind of focus that brings about action, and this is why I’m reaching out to you.
It is my hope that you will put your position of power and influence into action for the much-needed conversation around reform for the B.C. Mineral Tenure Act that was started by Mayor Osborne in Tofino five years ago. Please do not allow her resolution or the one most recently presented by Kamloops City Council members to fall away.

Between now and the next UBCM, I humbly ask that you try to find the time to familiarize yourself with the Resolutions, learn more about communities that have been impacted by mining or mining proposals, and speak to as many of your colleagues in other municipalities as you can about considering bringing yet another resolution for modernization of the Mineral Tenure Act to the UBCM.

Before I close this letter, I would like to tell you a bit about me and my community.

I’m a Mom of two girls in Kamloops, whose bedrooms would have been 2.3 km from an open pit mine, had the Ajax copper-gold operation been given the green light by the joint Provincial and Federal review bodies of the BCEAO and CEAA. From the time my youngest daughter was 3 years old (she has just turned 10) I became heavily involved in trying to understand as much as I could about potential impacts from this project on my very young children. First Nations and grassroots organizations in Kamloops (of which I’m a part) got involved in the environmental assessment process by asking many questions and by hiring outside experts to examine, review and analyze studies put together by proponent-hired experts. Local First Nations also formed their own comprehensive review of the project – a review first ever of its kind.

I would like to think that public and first nations contributions to the process of the environmental assessment led to the decision that the project would likely cause “significant adverse effects.” The thing is, most people who were concerned about that mine were not “against mining” – they were just against the location.

Residents closest to the proposed mine site, were told that a result of operations would be increased exposure to air and noise pollution – something they would have no choice about. The sense of helplessness, especially for people who had chosen their neighbourhood for its clean air and quiet surroundings, was overwhelming. Just the threat of the possibility went against quality of life and good mental health. It is one thing to choose to move into a neighbourhood where a mine is already operating, and quite another thing to have a mine move into the neighbourhood.

Many residents wondered, how can we possibly add more pollution from an industrial site this close when we’re already at or above the annual Provincial guideline of fine particulate matter air pollution? Kamloops’ topography (our valley) leads to the trap of particulate matter, and most people are surprised to learn that we have a higher annual average of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) than Vancouver, Chilliwack and Abbotsford.

Your hope for Vancouver to be recognized as the “Greenest City” in B.C., and certainly your desire for Vancouver to be a “city that meets the needs of generations to come,” is also the desire and hope of people living in other B.C. cities. At the municipal level we need to find greater regulations and protections for land use decisions that make sense for municipal development and livability.

Thank you,

Sincerely,

GINA MORRIS
Spokesperson for Kamloops Moms For Clean Air

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About Mel Rothenburger (6109 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca 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 ArmchairMayor.ca 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.

1 Comment on LETTER – Don’t let better regulations to protect communities fall by the wayside

  1. Ian M MacKenzie // September 26, 2018 at 8:08 PM // Reply

    Good letter, Gina. A lot of common sense here, and I doubt that anybody who has come up against the B.C. Mineral Tenure Act would fail to argue its lack of common sense and fairness.

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