Summary: My personal perception of community opinion on the mine proposal is that it is very divided. I want to be very careful in deciding to take a position because I feel a great responsibility to explain whatever position I decide to take. I agree the proposed mine is very large and close to residences. I would like more information on how the mining company proposes to avoid or significantly mitigate impact. I also have been focused on the environmental assessment process. I think this process needs to win the trust of reasonable Kamloopsians. So, I am currently neither supportive or opposed to the mine proposal. I await more information and I will continue to add energy to the best environmental review possible. I do wonder if city council should take a position on the mine. Taking a position may show leadeship, but it also might exacerbate community divisions. These divisions might hamper council efforts on other very important initatives, like the new official community plan. Council has certainly been engaging with the mine proposal, without taking a yes/no position.
In detail: I've heard from lots of people who are asking city council to show leadership by taking a position right now either for or against the Ajax mine proposal. Here is one of the latest requests, forwarded quite a few times, from a gentleman named Rod Andrew. Rod wrote this letter to the Kamloops News. Here is the part of the letter that I have most often seen in my email box:
"So, here is my question: Why is our City Council staying out of the debate over the mine above Aberdeen? If the mine goes ahead, much of the work done by its predecessors will be tarnished or reversed. We will be at risk of becoming, once again, a dusty, noisy and, probably, smelly resource town. I suggest that councilors take a good look at Kamloops as it is today, thank the councils of yesterday, and take a stand to keep Kamloops the wonderful town it has become."
Rod believes the mine proposal should be rejected. He writes:
The mine is too big and too close. No amount of new data will change these two factors.
When I was campaigning for a seat on city council, and since I was elected, I have talked to many many people about the Ajax mine proposal. Based on these conversations, my personal perception is that community sentiment is close to 50/50 and there is a lot of passion in how people express their views on both sides. I want to tread very carefully because of the strong division of opinion on the mine proposal in our community. I feel if I take a position, I will need to be able to explain it very well and I will need to demonstrate that I have been thoughtful and balanced in my decisionmaking approach.
I respect the feelings of people who believe the mine is too big and close. I also respect the feelings of people who believe the mine will provide a much desired economic boost. Personally, I have thus far focused on two factors: impact and process.
I would agree the mine is large and very close to residences and schools but, for me to assess whether it is too close or too large, I personally feel I need to better understand the potential impact of it size and proximity. The mining company is currently drawing up plans that are meant to detail how negative impacts would be prevented or mitigated. I would like to understand those plans before considering whether I am for or against the proposal.
My understanding the BC Environmental Assessment office (BCEAO) process is that the BCEAO weighs potential negative impacts against potential positive impacts. I have asked many business people and economic development professionals about the current health and openness of Kamloops' economy. From what I can tell so far, our economy is fairly robust and Kamloops has a strong reputation as being business friendly. So, I am personally more focused on whether the mining company can prevent or very significantly mitigate negative impact. I know many people who have significant respiratory illnesses and who moved up to Aberdeen to escape the valley inversions. Given what I currently believe, I would not support the mine if I felt that their health would be further compromised by the mine operations. Similarly, ranchers and others closer to the mine site should be appropriately compensated for any loss of business or enjoyment of property.
With regards to process, I am talking specifically about the provincial and federal governments ability and desire to really scrutinize the plans that will be drawn up by the mining company. I have largely been quite impressed by the public consultation processes used thus far to solicit questions, concerns, and feedback. I have questions about the rigour of the environmental analysis. One question, for example: Will these be assessments by one expert or a diverse panel of experts? To me, it's critical that a reasonable Kamloopsian will look at the final approval or denial and say that the process was very thorough, totally fair and independent.
I think that city council has engaged in the debate by submitting a long list of questions about the proposal, by inviting the Executive Director of the BCEAO to present on the environmental assessment process, and from time to time commenting on things like the 3D model and a federal panel review.
Just a final reflection here on Rod's letter. He talks about a huge change in Kamloops in the past 40 years. If I could sum it up in a sentence, it would go something like "from a dusty, smelly mill town to a healthy, beautiful centre for sports and higher learning". I think you can respectfully oppose the mine based on your vision for the community. I have made a conscious decision no to do that because I believe that there are also a lot of people whose vision of Kamloops includes a very healthy natural resource sector. I personally see ways in which these two visions can happily co-exist.
Lastly, I wonder if council should take a position on the mine at all. Taking a position might means showing leadership, it also means potentially exacerbating division. We have a lot of other initiatives we have direct responsibility for, like creating a new official community plan. We may want to focus on ways to bring the community together as opposed to contributing to a division in an area where we don't have the final say.
Would love to hear your feedback and advice.