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A proposal to turn Canada's largest open-pit mine into a massive garbage dump serving 25 communities in southern British Columbia has been revived by a provincial government decision to give it environmental approval.

The proposal to turn the Highland Valley Copper mine into a solid-waste disposal site seemed to be doomed earlier this year when Metro Vancouver announced it was giving up a search for a new landfill site to handle its three million tonnes of annual waste.

But instead of folding, Highland Valley Copper refocused, proposing a new plan to process 250,000 tonnes of waste from more than two dozen communities, ranging from Whistler to Kelowna.

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None of those communities have signed on yet, however, so the plan remains nothing more than a concept.

But on Monday, B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner and Community Development Minister Blair Lekstrom breathed some life into the proposal by announcing they had granted an environmental assessment certificate to the Highland Valley Centre for Sustainable Waste Management project.

Mark Freberg, superintendent of environment and community affairs for Highland Valley Copper, said the decision is a shot in the arm for the proposal, which wants to bury 250,000 tonnes of garbage annually in a 100-hectare section of the 6,000-hectare mine site, near the town of Logan Lake.

"We're very pleased. It's obviously a very important step.... If we hadn't got that approval or the process had somehow been sidetracked, we wouldn't have been able to move forward," Mr. Freberg said yesterday.

The proponents had been holding their breath, waiting for the key decision, he said. "Now that we're through that we have to get the group back together and start moving forward," he said.

The Highland Valley Copper mine proposal was first made several years ago, when Metro Vancouver was looking for a long-term solution for its garbage-disposal problem. But last spring Metro shifted direction, with a new solid-waste management plan that calls for its garbage to be burned in several waste-to-energy facilities, negating the need for a new landfill.

The mine dump site would have a triple lining as a barrier against seepage, a process for reclaiming methane gas to fuel garbage trucks, and enough capacity to collect garbage for more than 130 years.

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The proposal has support from some Indian bands in the area, but not others.

Chief David Walkem of Cooks Ferry Indian Band said his band and five others are endorsing the proposal. Chief Bob Pasco of Nlaka'Pamux Nation Tribal Council said nine bands are opposed.

He said Metro Vancouver is showing the right approach by planning to handle its garbage locally, and other communities should do the same.

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