The B.C. Liberal government's rejection of a proposed gold and copper mine in the northern Interior is sending a chill through the investment community that will make the Premier's targets to expand the mining industry tough to meet, the mine's proponent says.
Erik Tornquist, director of Pacific Booker Minerals Inc., released a detailed response on Wednesday to the government's decision to turn down the project.
"The net effect is that there has been a lot of confidence lost for investing in British Columbia," Mr. Tornquist said in an interview. The rejection has sent ripples of uncertainty through the mining industry, which has generally enjoyed a positive relationship with the Liberal government.
Mr. Tornquist said his company is considering its options and would not rule out a lawsuit against the province. He said Pacific Booker still wants to build the mine, but the federal environmental review has been halted as a result of B.C.'s refusal to issue an environmental certificate.
In a 13-page letter, the company argued that it has already responded to concerns raised by the province, and called for more clarity about how the government now calculates unacceptable risk.
"The mining industry is facing enormous challenges in permitting mines in British Columbia and the Province has a responsibility to provide transparency in the technical assessment of 'unacceptable' risks," the letter states. The rejection of the proposal "sterilizes $6 billion (today's metal prices and mine reserves) of the province's mineral resources and results in $300 million in lost tax revenue."
Pacific Booker Minerals began work on the mine in 1998 and had been hopeful about approval after a draft report by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency concluded that the project "is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects."
The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office also found that "the proposed project does not have the potential for significant adverse effects [and] first nations have been consulted and accommodated appropriately."
But on Oct. 1, the province announced it would not approve the Morrison Lake mine proposal. It concluded that the genetically unique population of sockeye salmon in Morrison Lake would be at risk if promised safety measures failed. And the province would be on the hook financially if the company could not meet its liability obligations in the long term.
B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake was not available for comment on Wednesday, but said in an interview earlier in the week that the long-term risks associated with the project were too great.
There has been a spotlight on the province's environmental assessment process since B.C. approved a controversial mine, called Prosperity, at the same time that Ottawa rejected it. Mr. Lake said this process was not substantially different, but the decision proves "it's not a rubber-stamping process."
Premier Christy Clark has promised 17 new and expanded mines by 2015 as part of her jobs agenda. Since the jobs plan was announced a year ago, five expansions have been approved by her government. "I think British Columbia should be a model for sustainable resource development," Mr. Lake said. "The Premier is absolutely committed to creating jobs but she has shown that it is not at any cost."