March/April 2010

BC to ban mining in Flathead Valley

Mining industry surprised and disappointed

By P. Caulfield

 

The Flathead Valley in the southeastern corner of British Columbia 


The British Columbia government recently announced plans to ban all mining and oil and gas development in the Flathead Valley in the southeastern corner of the province. The move, which follows years of protests and international campaigning by environmentalists, was announced during the February throne speech.

There are two major projects affected by the ban: Max Resource Corp.’s Crowsnest gold project and Cline Mining Corporation’s Lodgepole coal project. Reaction to the announcement was swift. John Bergenske, executive director of environmentalist group Wildsight, praised the government’s initiative. “It’s a giant step in the right direction,” he said.

For Max Resource, the news led to a loss of one-third of its market capitalization. “We are surprised and disappointed by the government’s action, given our outstand­­ing exploration results at Crowsnest in 2009 said Stuart Rogers, president of Max Resources.”

Despite his disappointment, Rogers was philosophical. “Better to find out now than in three years, when we would be closer to a mine,” he said. “There’s really nothing we can do except ask for adequate compensation. Besides, we have three properties in Nevada and they like us there.”

Cline Mining’s vice-president and CFO Ernest Cleave said the company “is reviewing the ramifications of the throne speech and our alternatives.”

Association for Mineral Explor­ation British Columbia chair Lena Brommeland said the association was “extremely disappointed” with the announcement. “The Flathead Valley is located in a region that has an existing land-use plan that was created by the provincial government with extensive local input,” she said.   “The decision to ban mining in the Flathead Valley disregards this plan and planning process
completely.”

Brommeland said politically popular decisions are not always good policy. “For example, the provincial government recently placed restrictions on uranium and thorium exploration, mining and development in BC, despite Canada being one of the world’s largest producers of uranium with the most stringent regulations and safeguards on its use,” Brommeland said.

Ross Stanfield, president of the East Kootenay Chamber of Mines in southeastern BC, is familiar with the Flathead Valley. He
disputes environmentalists’ description of the area as “pristine wilderness.” “It’s beautiful, but it’s certainly not pristine,” Stanfield said. “There’s a long history of mining exploration and forestry going back to around 1900.”

The ruling will affect all British Columbians because of the loss of billions of dollars in potential resource values, hundreds of potential jobs and millions of dollars in potential tax revenues.

But Jamie Lawson, a University of Victoria political science professor who studies BC politics, suggested the news from the throne speech was not all bad for mineral development.

He noted another part of the speech, citing the recent Supreme Court decision critical of the environmental assessment process applied to the Red Chris Mine, promises streamlined environmental reporting. According to the speech, “the government will work with other provinces and the federal government to establish one process for one project.”

Lawson explained, “environmentalists will be skeptical because they will lose their procedural capacity to slow projects down. The Flathead Valley decision can be seen as a way to anticipate and offset their opposition by giving them a high-profile victory that will get lots of attention in the press.”

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