Environmental review panel nixes proposed Ajax mine

First Nations oppose $1.3 billion copper-gold project in south-central B.C.

A prospective copper-gold mine in south-central  British Columbia has been handed a setback by local First Nations who oppose the project.

An environmental review panel led by the Stk'emlúpsemc te Secwépemc and the Tk’emlups had been deliberating the pros and cons of the controversial $1.3-billion mine, located on the outskirts of Kamloops, for the past few months. On Saturday, in a 200-person ceremony announcing their rejection, one of the indigenous groups said a lake and the land around it where the mine is to be located, holds spiritual significance.

"The current environmental approval process in British Columbia and Canada uses science but doesn't take into consideration our traditions and our culture," said Stk'emlúpsemc te Secwépemc councillor Janet Jules, quoted by CBC News. "That's what we emphasized with our consultations."

However the decision isn't the end of the Ajax mine; final word goes to the federal and provincial environmental assessment offices. On January 18 the mine developer, KGHM Ajax Mining, submitted an application to them for an environmental certificate.

The open-pit mine about 400 kilometres from Vancouver has been under consideration since 2006, but has run into opposition mostly due to its close proximity to Kamloops, a medium-sized Interior B.C. city. A survey done in 2013 showed nearly 75 per cent of respondents opposed the mine. Recently Mining Watch calculated the risk to the proponents, KGHM International (TSX:QUX) and Abacus Mining & Exploration (TSXV:AME), of pushing ahead with the project, saying it could cost them over $100 million in litigation or compensation costs.

But KGHM says on its website that it has taken local concerns into account by moving the facilities farther from the city, while also increasing the processor throughput by 5,000 tonnes per day (60,000 tpd to 65,000 tpd) in an updated feasibility study released on January 13.

The Ajax mine has proven and probable mineral reserves calculated at 2.7 billion pounds of copper, 2.6 million ounces of gold and 5.3 million ounces of silver. The 18-year mine would produce an annual 58,000 tonnes of copper and 125,000 ounces of gold.

CBC quotes KGHM saying the mine would generate 1,800 jobs during construction and 500 when it's in operation.