The City will ask mine proponent KGHM as well as its chief opponent, Kamloops Area Preservation Association, to contribute to the estimated $300,000 cost of reviewing the Ajax environmental permit application.
Council voted unanimously Tuesday to draw the environmental consulting cost from its general fund reserve while asking the company and, by means of a last-minute amendment to the motion, the nonprofit society to contribute.
They also agreed to consider at the next regular council meeting whether to expedite public consultation as a preliminary step in preparing for the permit review process. KGHM is expected to submit its application, the penultimate step towards advancing its mine proposal, in late summer or early fall.
Once KGHM submits its application to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office, the agency has 30 days to screen the document to ensure it fulfills requirements. After that, the process allows for a 180-day public comment period.
Aside from ensuring an independent review of the controversial proposal, the City should be readying itself sooner rather than later, said Coun. Denis Walsh.
“To shape the scope of the review from residents’ viewpoints so that we cover all those areas of concern,” Walsh said, explaining why an open house should be held in the second week of September.
“I already think we’re behind in this process by not taking a position,” he said. “I think it’s critical we do this study, critical that we hear from the public.”
Taxpayers have questioned councillors about the projected cost of the review, wondering why the City would spend $300,000 on a process over which it has no authority. The decision of whether the mine should be allowed to develop lies with the provincial Cabinet, not with the City.
“I think we’re that intermediary trying to fund that non-partisan review of the data,” said Mayor Peter Milobar. “I’m comfortable with the process. It’s about as impartial as we could make it.”
Coun. Ken Christian said he has confidence in the province’s environmental review process but sees a need for independent scrutiny due to the scale and proximity of the project. Aberdeen groundwater and air shed management in Pineview and Dufferin could be affected, he said. The City lacks expertise to review air quality and hydrological data.
Christian wanted the City to hold its open house immediately after KGHM submits its application, which was one of three options laid out by Utilities Director Jen Fretz. The other options were to hold the public consultation midway through the public comment period or once the City has completed its review of the application.
Coun. Donovan Cavers said he doesn’t feel taxpayers should have to pay the cost of independent review and Walsh said he is against taxpayers footing the whole bill.
It was Coun. Pat Wallace who suggested that KAPA should be invited to share in the cost along with KGHM. She said she has friends who have worked long and hard in their opposition to the mine.
“I think it would be a really good gesture to invite them in to participate as we are doing with KGHM,” Wallace said.
KAPA plans to hire its own third-party consultant to review the permit application and raised enough funds to do it by crowd-sourcing earlier this summer.
The notion that outside funding might come with strings attached was also considered.
“I would be comfortable with 50/50,” said Coun. Tina Lange. “There’s always going to be a concern from people that there was some kind of bias. Why spend taxpayer dollars? This is the biggest thing that’s come on our plate in the last 10 years. I think it’s something that’s going to change Kamloops forever.”
Although council has taken no official stand on the mine proposal, councillors Walsh, Lange and Cavers have consistently opposed it.
“This could be the biggest change Kamloops has ever seen in terms of how it will impact the city,” Walsh said. “The sooner we get concerns documented and fleshed out, we’ll be ahead of the game.”