TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – Project-development company Fortune Minerals on Thursday provided clarification on its access to the proposed Arctos openpit coal mine, in British Columbia (BC), saying misinformation is circulating.
Members of the Tahltan First Nation on Tuesday began blockading a road leading to the project, which is also used to travel to traditional hunting camps.
Fortune investor relations manager Troy Nazarewicz told Mining Weekly Online the Arctos anthracite project’s 2013 summer field programme was being undertaken from a fly-in camp that opened on July 2, and which was now fully operational, using aircraft to fly staff and equipment to the site.
He said that some subcontractors might choose to use the road, despite the camp being designed as a fly-in, fly-out operation.
Nazarewicz said there were no talks on Wednesday or Thursday with First Nations. "However, we continue to consult with Aboriginal communities to address their questions about the project. We will continue to work with all Aboriginal groups and stakeholders throughout the environmental assessment process, and we are confident their concerns can be addressed through the regulatory process," he said.
Activities at the camp were put on hold for four days on August 15 at the start of a protest, but full operations at the environmental field programme resumed the morning of August 19 and have continued since.
Management and staff of the Arctos Anthracite Joint Venture (AAJV), an international collaboration between Fortune (80%) and Posco Canada (20%), met with representatives of the Tahltan leadership on the evening of August 17 to discuss a protest that was organised at the site in north-western BC.
“The AAJV listened with respect to concerns expressed by the leadership and some elders and acknowledged their responsibilities for stewardship of the land. The AAJV explained our similar responsibilities to our employees, shareholders and our right to conduct lawful scientific studies.
“We explained that the work was being completed to support the environmental assessment in progress for the project, and that we were lawfully operating in the area with valid permits issued by the BC government in consultation with the Tahltan,” Nazarewicz said.
The company did, however, compromise and had agreed to alter helicopter routes, to improve the hunting environment and the First Nations’ peaceful use of a traditional camp.
Nazarewicz added that the Tahltan Central Council (TCC) did not organise the protest.
Fortune said the Arctos project was currently in the provincial environmental assessment (EA) process, to assess the merits and impacts of the project from a balanced perspective that would address environmental, social and economic considerations.
More than $100-million had already been spent over 30 years to identify the high-quality anthracite metallurgical coal resource.
“The 2013 summer field programme for scientific environmental studies, in support of this EA process, is lawfully permitted by the various Ministries of the provincial government and these permits were issued in consultation with the First Nations and communities.
“While we respect the right to peaceful protest, we believe very strongly that the best forum to address concerns about the project is through the permitting and environmental assessment processes, where all issues are examined in detail, allowing decisions to be made from an informed position,” the company said in an emailed statement.
Nazarewicz noted that the Cassiar Iskut-Stikine land resource management plan (LRMP) was approved and implemented by the BC government and the Tahltan Joint Council, which was the forerunner of the TCC, in 2000.
Most of the LRMP area is in traditional Tahltan territory, and the LRMP set aside 26% of its 5.2-million hectares as protected areas. Despite the Klappan area being recognised for its cultural values, the LRMP identified the “substantial resources of high-grade metallurgical coal” at the Arctos project for mining.
“This was recognised and agreed to by the Tahltan leadership at that time,” he said.
Meanwhile, the company said the mine is about 8 km away from the closest point to the Nass river’s watershed and about 12 km from the closest point to the Skeena river’s watershed, stressing that it would have no impact on the two rivers.
Only the proposed railway extension along the existing rail bed is within the Skeena river’s watershed, and the subgrade was already mainly complete.
The Arctos mine site is only within the Stikine river’s watershed; however, the mine and the rail bed are far from the Stikine river itself (about 30 km from the headwaters of the Stikine).
“The AAJV will take all measures to protect the creeks and rivers near the mine that ultimately flow into the Stikine river. In addition, there is extensive work being done in relation to the mine’s water quality, to design a facility that poses no harm to any watercourse,” the company said.
The Arctos project would create jobs and prosperity for British Columbians by producing a valuable resource ideal for steelmaking and metals processing. This project has the potential to generate $10-billion in revenues and $900-million in combined federal and provincial taxes over its life span, while creating more than 500 high-paying jobs and employment in supporting activities for 1 000 more.
“We look forward to working with governments, Aboriginal groups and local communities to develop the project and make it a model of cooperation and environmental sustainability,” Nazarewicz said.
The Arctos project included test mining sites straddling a government constructed railway and subgrade linking to the Canadian National main northern line to Prince Rupert. The railway and the development of the North-West transmission line to extend power to the area were in line with the federal and provincial Pacific Gateway Policy to promote greater exports from the province to Asia.