A native group in northern B.C. wants to put the brakes on a process that could bring the mothballed Kitsault molybdenum mine back into production, citing environmental concerns as well as worries that the current political climate could result in a rushed decision.
The Nisga'a Nation called for a halt after the project was recently referred from the provincial Environmental Assessment Office to two cabinet ministers – one of the final steps in the provincial review process.
"We are on the eve of the next provincial election," Nisga'a Nation chairman Kevin McKay said on Thursday, adding that provincial regulations provide a 45-day window – until April 15 – for the ministers to make their decision. "This has compelled the Nisga'a Nation to take this step."
The head of the company that wants to build the mine, however, says environmental concerns are unfounded and that the current political backdrop should not affect a process that has been under way for more than a year.
"It's extremely disappointing," Avanti Mining Inc. CEO Craig Nelsen said Thursday, referring to a Nisga'a Nation press release of the day before calling for a halt to the project. "Especially given the amount of time, energy and money we've put into complying with the Nisga'a Treaty."
Under the provincial environmental review process, the ministers can issue an Environmental Assessment Certificate, refuse to issue a certificate or order further studies.
Avanti purchased the project in 2008 and had its first meeting with Nisga'a officials that year, Mr. Nelsen said.
Nisga'a officials, meanwhile, maintain studies done to date have not fully assessed the potential marine impacts of the mine according to provisions set out in the Nisga'a Final Agreement, a 2000 treaty.
The Kitsault mine, on Alice Arm about 140 kilometres northeast of Prince Rupert, went into production in 1967 and last operated in 1982. It produced molybdenum, a metal used in manufacturing steel.
Avanti has spent the past few years working to bring the mine – which was closed when molybdenum prices fell – back into production. The company says the project would cost about $938-million to build, and employ about 700 people during a two-year construction period and about 300 when in operation.
Avanti's plans call for the project, which is being reviewed through a joint provincial-federal process, to start up in 2015 and operate for about 16 years. If it were to go into production, the mine's employees would not be housed in a former townsite that was once home to mine workers.
Businessman Krishnan Suthanthiran bought the townsite in 2005 and has since floated several concepts for its possible revival, including running it as an eco-tourism operation.
This year, Mr. Suthanthiran – a Carleton University graduate whose ventures include the Best Medical group of companies – suggested turning it into a liquefied natural gas hub, saying its deep water port and fully serviced townsite make it a logical location of a terminal for shipping LNG from B.C. to Asian markets.