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KGHM hires new superintendent as bid to revive Ajax mine ramps up

The new Ajax superintendent's duties will initially be focused on First Nations, community and governmental engagement in order to advance the project towards a potential resubmission of its environmental application.
ajax file pic

Investors in the former Ajax mine have hired a superintendent as they look to revive the controversial mining project.

Michal Wypych joins KGHM International as the company and partner Abacus Mining & Exploration Corporation intend to resubmit an environmental application to restart the mine.

In a Sept. 1 newsletter to investors, Abacus president and CEO Paul Anderson said that as the Ajax superintendent, Wypych’s duties will initially be focused on First Nations, community and governmental engagement in order to advance the project toward resubmitting the application to government.

KTW is awaiting a return call from Wypych, a Kamloops resident who was previously involved with the Ajax project.

KGHM is also once again looking for office space in Kamloops in order to provide the project with an increased community presence.

"Ajax remains a priority for both Abacus and for our partner, and we are pleased to see that the Ajax project will once again have a community-based presence,” Anderson said in the release. "We understand that our partner has work to do in order to revitalize the project, and we welcome this first step."

The Poland-based KGHM owns 80 per cent of interest in the project, while Vancouver-based Abacus has a 20 per cent share.

The proposed open-pit copper and gold mine south of Aberdeen requires approval from both the provincial and federal governments to proceed but back in December 2017, the application was rejected by the provincial NDP government.

At the time, Environment Minister George Heyman and Mines Minister Michelle Mungall said the open-pit mine would have significant adverse effects not outweighed by potential benefits. These included impacts to Indigenous heritage and traditional land uses, and to human health, air quality and grasslands eco-systems.

Heyman called the environmental review process “substantial, thorough and fair,” noting the length and level of engagement.

Anderson said despite this setback, KGHM in consultation with Abacus has continued to work to advance the project, including evaluating various strategies geared toward potentially resubmitting the environmental application.

Upon the initial rejection, KGHM and Abacus had the option of appealing the decision at the Supreme Court level, but the companies did not do that.

Ajax split many Kamloops residents, some whom passionately opposed and others adamantly in support of the project.

Local First Nations were and remain opposed to the proposed mine, with the Stk’emlupsemc Te Secwépemc Nation, which represents the Tk’emlups and Skeetchestn First Nations, citing the project’s impacts on Jacko Lake, which it considers an important cultural heritage site.

In 2017, council voted to oppose Ajax, but did so with three of its nine seats vacant. Arjun Singh, Denis Walsh, Donovan Cavers, Dieter Dudy and Tina Lange voted to oppose the mine. Pat Wallace voted against opposing Ajax.

Despite the stance, the city had reached an agreement in principle with KHGM with respect to a community benefits agreement, in which Kamloops was to receive $3.8 million annually from the company if Ajax was approved.

The money — which would have amounted to $87 million over the projected 23-year life of the mine — was meant to be used for items including an independent monitoring program, a local health-care program, affordable housing offset, community and social services funding, to offset taxes for heavy industry and cover road maintenance.