Stating my Position on the Ajax Mine Proposal…
Posted on: July 17, 2017 9:43 pm
by: Arjun Singh
Today, at city council, we made the decision to oppose the Ajax mine proposal. Here is my statement as to why I came to a difficult decision to oppose. :
With the wildfires around us, I’ve spent some time in our evacuee reception centres over the past week. Everybody is coming together at these centres. The Ajax polarization of opinion largely disappears. This, to me, is Kamloops at its best. Kamloopsians coming together from all walks of life to help our neighbours.
On Ajax, the sides have become very entrenched and I think we need to remember that the vast majority of people on both sides of the proposal are good people with good intentions and legitimate ideas and concerns. I urge people to see the good and the legitimate in those with a different view. We need to retain our ability to come together. I truly believe there is much more that unites us than divides us.
I have found my dealings with key proponents and opponents of the proposal to be generally respectful and thoughtful.
This not about a generally alway supporting industry or generally always opposing industry. We need to assess each proposal case by case.
From very early on, I have been guided by a few key principles in my assessment of the Ajax proposal:
- I should base my assessment on the best available information is available about the proposal, both in terms of the final environmental application by the mining company and expert reviews of this application.
- I should assess the net impact of the mine taking into consideration the proposed benefits and the anticipated challenges. I set a very high bar for my support.
I have talked about these principles often in my discussions and my public statements on Ajax.
In my experience, KGHM has been a great company to deal with. I know the staff at KGHM have been incredibly committed to proposing a safe, profitable operation. I also thank KGHM for its significant charitable contributions to the community.
I also know many Kamloops citizens strongly support Ajax for the economic and employment benefits it could bring. Some citizens have shared with me their feeling that Kamloops has a hard time “getting to yes” on major projects they feel would move the community forward.
My research and assessment leads me, however, to a difficult decision today not to support the Ajax proposal. There are five main reasons for my decision.
- SSN decision : I think the SSN process of assessing the mine proposal was incredibly comprehensive and democratic. While I might differ with SSN’s stances from issue to issue, on an economic and land use decision as large as the Ajax, I think the lack of SSN support is a deal breaker. In the spirit of reconciliation, I stand with SSN on their position on the Ajax proposal.
- Health impacts – Virtually every professional peer review of the Ajax proposal I have read has expressed significant uncertainty with Ajax plan to mitigate 90% of the fugitive dust from the site. As Ralph Adams, BC Ministry of Environment Air Quality Meteorologist states in a March 17th 2017 letter, “neither I nor my colleagues at Environment Canada agree that the study supplies adequate evidence that 90% dust mitigation can be maintained in the conditions expected at the proposed Ajax mine”
Even with 90% mitigation, the Ajax application outlines some increases in particulate matter for areas of upper Aberdeen. With the uncertainty around reaching 90%, the increases in particulate matter may be greater than forecast in the application. At the Ajax town hall in June 2017, Dr Kamran Golmohammadi stated “my professional opinion is that there will be episodes of significant increase in particulate matter”
These will have negative health impacts on some residents. SLR’s Dr Muttray confirmed that even short term exposure to PM 2.5 for people with already compromised respiratory systems (eg. those with Asthma) can have negative health impacts.
Dr Golmohammadi also stated that it is very difficult to assess the mental health impacts of anxiety among those very concerned about the mine. The uncertainty around mental health impacts is also a big concern for me.
Ajax would undoubtedly bring many jobs and a lot of economic activity to Kamloops and region. However, with our strong and diverse economy, in my view, these positives are outweighed by the negative health impacts. Kamloops economic success no longer rests on one project or one industry.
In saying this, we as a council need to continue to encourage good paying natural resource based jobs in Kamloops. And I commit to helping in any way I can with that effort.
- Monitoring challenges: In his March 17th letter, Ralph Adams notes that a monitoring and migation “strategy carries risk. The strategy is based on the assumption that any issues that arise during the life of the mine could be resolved with additional mitigation meaures; however, there may be issues where no practical or economically feasible solution can be found.” He goes to state that “if the mine goes ahead the development of the monitoring and mitigation plans will be critical and are likely to require the most comprehensive, complex, and expensive monitoring systems that have been attempted for any mine in BC.”
With our local experience with provincial government challenges in monitoring the Owl Road landfill, i am skeptical that we can always rely on comprehensive, complex, and expensive monitoring systems to prevent or mitigate negative impact.
The ownership structure of KGHM may also impact the long term stability of the company’s monitoring plans. KGHM largest shareholder is the Government of Poland. And when governments change in Poland, as happened in the past couple of years, there can be a change of philosophy that may result in less robust monitoring on the ground.
- Potential loss of doctors: I don’t think all physicians in Kamloops oppose the Ajax proposal. Enough have, however, to cause me a significant concern about a loss of doctors in the community if the proposal is approved. At different Ajax townhalls, we have had neurologists, general practitioners, rehabilitation specialists, and pediatricians express their opposition.
- Potential loss of community diversity and cohesion: The Ajax proposal has attracted a lot of significant support in the community. It also unfortunately has split the community in terms of support and opposition. If the proposal is approved, I fear that Kamloops will lose some of the diversity I treasure. I think major economic projects should bring the community together. KGHM, despite a significant effort, has not been able to achieve this.