The joint federal-provincial review panel assessing the $190-million Kemess North mine has said "no" to its development. This is a significant stumbling block for a project that would extend the working life of the Kemess project by 14 years.
The panel said, "The development of the project in its present form would not be in the public interest. The economic and social benefits provided by the project, on balance, are outweighed by the risks of significant adverse environmental, social and cultural effects, some of which may not emerge until many years after mining operations cease."
The review panel doesn't have the final say on development. Its recommendations go to the federal and provincial environment ministers for the final ruling. The ministers have the power to approve the project, despite the panel's recommendation. In that case, the panel submitted a list of recommendations that would further mitigate the impact of the Kemess North copper-gold mine.
Owner NORTHGATE MINERALS of Vancouver, issued only a terse press release acknowledging the panel's decision.
The company did everything in its power to gain acceptance for the project. It arranged open houses to introduce the project to the local community. It participated in the public hearings before the review panel. It posted the FAQs of the project on its website. It signed a statement of understanding with the local First Nations bands, proceeded with employment and training programs for them, and awarded contracts to their businesses.
One sticking point appears to be the proposal to store tailings in Duncan Lake. The plan involves moving the existing fish population to another body of water during the time the tailings area is active. Northgate has plans to remediate Duncan Lake and reintroduce the fish population when the mine closes.
Opposition comes mainly from First Nations, citing the loss of traditional fishing grounds and the lack of a formal land claims settlement.
The MINING ASSOCIATION OF BC issued the first comment on the rejection of the Kemess North development. "It is unfortunate that a project of such considerable importance to the entire province has been essentially halted by untested subjective concerns," said its president, Michael McPhie. "The fact is that the conclusions of the report state clearly that the test of environmental stewardship, the key aspect of the environmental assessment process, has been met and the project would not cause significant adverse environmental effects."
So for now the 424 million tonnes of resources at Kemess North will remain undisturbed. The annual income from 250,000 oz of gold and 113 million lb of copper will be unrealized. Employment for 175 people during construction will not materialize. The 450 jobs at the Kemess South mine will disappear when that deposit is mined out in five years.
Will the Kemess North gold and copper remain unmined? Can Northgate come up with a new plan that wins the support of all involved? If it does not gain more support soon, Kemess North may not be developed for decades.