KGHM Ajax Mining Inc., the company behind the proposed Ajax mine, submitted its 18,000-page application/environmental impact statement to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office on Jan. 18. Inside it were multiple models created by KGHM assessing the project’s impact on the surrounding region.
KGHM says it specifically chose the “worst-case” years of the construction and operation phases for its assessment because these would be the years with the greatest impact on the region’s environment and air quality.
The study notes that air quality is already a pre-existing problem in Kamloops, but claims that the project’s impact on regional air quality will be minimal.
KGHM notes that because “there is no smelter associated with the project, and emissions from the actual processing of ore into concentrate are small” that the majority of the project’s emissions will stem from the exhaust and dust raised from haul trucks going to and from the mine.
The regions directly surrounding the mine, which are largely uninhabited grasslands, will be affected the worst according to the assessment, with KGHM admitting that “levels of contaminants that exceed the government objectives will occur in undeveloped and uninhabited grasslands surrounding the project.”
Though habitat loss in the region has been labelled as not significant (minor) or not significant (moderate) depending on the species, Jacko Lake and its trout population will feel the project’s effects more than any other region or species.
Despite KGHM’s claims that the Ajax open-pit copper and gold mine will have minimal impact, Peter Tsigaris an environmental economist at TRU, notes that these are simply based on assumptions.
“The problem is that all of these predictions are based on models instead of actual experience,” Tsigaris said. “If you want to see a real model, go look at Highland Valley Copper and see how they are doing for air pollution and environmental impact.”
Tsigaris also claims that this may be a bad time for the project in general, as copper prices are currently low and that going ahead with the mine may mean negative profitability for KGHM.
In light of the project’s most recent feasibility study, KGHM Ajax has cut the life expectancy of the mine from 23 years to 18 years and has increased their capital expenditure by $500 million.
“So what they basically need to do is increase production and increase those metal prices, but the metal prices are quite highly inflated,” Tsigaris said. “And by digging up more copper, they cause the price to go down to very low, then they stop production, layoff workers and close down plants and that isn’t very good as well.”
Tsigaris believes the project may also adversely affect tourism and housing prices in the Kamloops region.
“It could affect tourism, because you are changing the image of the city to make it more of a mining town. You fly in and you see this giant pit right next to the city and just assume it’s an industrial city,” he said.
“Property values will be affected too, there is no doubt about it. They say it is based on perception, but my problem is that perceptions themselves are important,” Tsigaris said. “People might say ‘why buy a house right by a large mine where industrial activity is happening?’ But of course we can’t know for sure yet.”
The Kamloops Area Preservation Association’s John Schleiermacher is concerned that the mine may affect Kamloops Lake and Peterson Creek as well.
“They want to pump 15 billion litres of water from Kamloops Lake, which they say they will try to recycle as much as possible, but that in itself has challenges,” Schleiermacher said.
KGHM has itself claimed that even if they decide to divert Peterson Creek, the creek will mostly likely be affected, as the mine’s pit will intrude on the creek to the south of Jacko Lake.
KGHM Ajax Mining Inc. did not respond to requests for comment on this story.