A group fighting a Kamloops-area mine proposal says it will ask new federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq to refer the Ajax mine to a review panel, even though previous minister Peter Kent turned down a request for that approach.
"We're getting our ducks in a row and we are going to be asking for [the review panel]," John Schleiermacher, spokesman for the Kamloops Area Preservation Association (KAPA), said on Tuesday.
Kamloops Mayor Peter Milobar is also seeking meetings with Ms. Aglukkaq and new provincial ministers of mining and environment to discuss the project.
The proposed Ajax mine would be an open-pit copper-gold mine that would fall partly within Kamloops city limits. Currently, the project is in the early stages of a joint federal-provincial assessment called a comprehensive study.
KAPA, formed in 2011 by residents worried about potential health impacts of the mine, would like to see the project go to a review panel – a panel of independent experts that, among other things, can hold public hearings and summon witnesses. KAPA says such a panel would be the best way to review a project that would put a major industrial operation within a few hundred metres of homes and schools.
The group asked former federal environment minister Peter Kent to refer the Ajax mine to a review panel, but he turned down that request in early 2012. Ms. Aglukkaq was named environment minister in a cabinet shuffle this month, and KAPA is hoping that fresh eyes might result in a different verdict.
At this point, it is not known when or if she will review the group's proposal. To do so, she would have to work through the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
"Minister Aglukkaq, as is the case for any new Minister, will be briefed by government officials over the next days and weeks on key files falling under her responsibilities," agency spokeswoman Annie Roy said Tuesday in an e-mail. "We can't comment on when briefing on any particular file has occurred or will occur."
In the meantime, Ajax plans continue amid a long-running public debate in Kamloops.
"For us as a company, all we can do is listen to the community's concerns and go by what the government decides at the time," Yves Lacasse, manager of external affairs for mine proponent KGHM International, said on Tuesday, referring to the previous decision by Ottawa that a review panel was not required.
"The process is out of our hands and our role is to follow what the government tells us to do. If a joint panel review is something that comes up later on – we will do everything we can to comply with whatever is asked of us," he said.
Part of the process now underway involves looking at measures that would mitigate potential environmental and community impacts from mine operations, Mr. Lacasse said. "In today's day and age, I don't believe you can pass a project that will be harmful to the people. I believe the current process is very robust. We look forward to submitting our application and having it reviewed."
As the Ajax controversy continues, a federal review panel concerning another controversial B.C. mine is gearing up for public hearings that begin in Williams Lake on July 22.
Those hearings concern the New Prosperity mine, a copper-gold project proposed by Taseko Mines. The province approved that project in early 2010, but in November of that year former federal environment minister Jim Prentice – citing potential environmental damage – said the project as it was then designed could not proceed.
Taseko subsequently revised its mine design to retain Fish Lake, a scenic lake that would have been drained and filled with waste rock in the previous proposal.