Kamloops group wants Ajax information
A Kamloops environmental-awareness group is calling on Victoria to amend its laws to allow for more transparency from the proponent of a controversial mine proposed for south of Aberdeen — but the company behind the venture is claiming certain details of the project are top secret.
The request, from the Kamloops Area Preservation Association (KAPA), came as the deadline for the latest — and final — round of pre-application public consultation on the proposed KGHM Ajax Copper-Gold Mine wrapped up this week.
In a letter dated March 26, addressed to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office, KAPA asked for changes to the provincial Environmental Assessment Act “regarding the disclosure of baseline environmental and geological data by a proponent.”
In the case of the Ajax Mine, KAPA claims in the letter it has been repeatedly stymied in requests to receive more detailed information about the potential impacts of the project — information the group claims exists, but is being intentionally withheld.
Donna Sambolec, vice-chair of KAPA and spokeswoman for the group, said more detailed reports are referenced in appendices of other documents made available by Ajax staff.
“They have quoted them in some of their documents,” she told KTW.
“It makes it very difficult. That information would be very valuable. It will tell us the specifics.”
Formed last year, KAPA is a group of people opposed to the Ajax mine in its proposed form.
The proponent of the mining project is KGHM Ajax Inc. — a joint venture between Polish mining giant KGHM and Vancouver-based Abacus Mining and Exploration.
KAPA claims in its letter to the Environmental Assessment Office — one of more than 300 public-comment submissions dealing with Ajax — that it has been been told by the proponents the information is off-limits because of its “proprietary” nature.
According to Ajax, withholding proprietary information is the norm in the mining industry.
“A mining company, especially in the case of both KGHM and Abacus, they’re both publicly traded companies,” said Jim Whittaker, Ajax project manager.
“There are certain bits of information that are public and there are some that are not. It’s the private property of a publicly traded company.”
Whittaker said more detailed reports are being submitted to government officials, noting those will become public as the application process moves forward.
For now, though, given B.C.’s legislation, it would appear KAPA is out of luck.
According to Sambolec, the group is left at a disadvantage without full disclosure from KGHM and Abacus.
“What we’ve seen, it’s just not sufficient to be able to draft good questions,” she said.
“That [further] information, it will give our researchers the technical information they need.”
KAPA’s letter to Victoria echoes the same sentiment.
“Even though baseline environmental information has been collected by the proponent since 2006, the public has been invited to attend public meetings where virtually none of this information has been disclosed,” it reads.
“To provide for meaningful public participation in the environmental-assessment process, KAPA therefore believes that the B.C. government should amend the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act and regulations to require that mining projects that are reviewable under this legislation submit specified baseline environmental and geological data as part of the project description.”
As for KAPA’s next step, Sambolec is playing the group’s cards close to her chest.
“It will be decided at our next meeting,” she said, suggesting plans are already in the works but refusing to elaborate.
“It remains to be seen, but it’s going to be interesting.”
KAPA is slated to meet next on Tuesday, April 3.
• The next step in the process
Ajax representatives will now meet with the province to review all concerns raised in both public-comment periods — the most recent one ending this week, and the previous one that took place last summer.
Under the Environmental Assessment Act, the proponent is required to address each comment.
The Environmental Assessment Office will then determine the adequacy of the proponent’s responses, and an AIR (application information requirement) document will be prepared.
The next step after that would be Ajax filing its application based on the requirements set out in the AIR document.
At that point, a further public-comment period would be initiated prior to the application’s review.
According to the Environmental Assessment Office, it will be weeks, if not months, before the AIR document is complete.
Ajax project manager Jim Whittaker told KTW his staff is already working on tabulating the comments for the response process.
“It starts immediately,” he said.
After the AIR document is complete, the ball will be in Ajax’s court as to how the approval process proceeds.
However, legislation requires proponents to submit their formal application within three years of the AIR document being finalized.
• Intent of KGHM known soon
It won’t be much longer until the extent of Polish mining giant KGHM’s involvement in the proposed Kamloops mine is known.
KGHM is expected to announce as soon as next week whether or not it will up its financial stake in the Ajax project.
As it stands now, the company holds a 51 per cent stake in the venture.
The remainder belongs to Abacus Mining and Exploration — a Vancouver-based geological firm.
“The decision KGHM has to make is if they want to increase to 80 per cent in the ownership process,” said Jim Whittaker, Ajax project manager.
If that were to happen, Abacus would decrease its equity in the project to 20 per cent.
There is speculation KGHM is waiting for firm indication the project will proceed before making a decision on increased ownership.
Whittaker acknowledged the gravity of the decision.
“It sets the tone for investment,” he said.
“It’s a critical point for this project.”
According to Whittaker, KGHM will issue a public announcement once a decision on equity has been reached.
According to the results of a May 2010 feasibility which was released by Abacus Mining and Exploration in December, under recent mineral prices, the value of the mine could quadruple to $1.6 billion from the initial $416 million.
The study also noted that, under optimum conditions, Ajax would pay back its initial capital in just over two years.
The initial capital cost to start the mine is projected to be $795 million, including a contingency of $87 million.
The mine is expected to produce 2.5-billion pounds of copper and 2.7-million ounces of gold over its 23-year life span.