A local Indian band is petitioning the provincial government for an environmental assessment of development at Copper Mountain Mine, potentially interrupting plans of the facility’s new owner, Hudbay Minerals.
The Lower Similkameen Indian Band (LSIB) filed the request June 5, two weeks before Hudbay acquired Princeton’s largest employer at a cost of $439 million.
At issue is the revitalization and expansion of the Ingerbelle Pit, which has been in the works for the past five years and is expected to extend the life of the mine until 2044.
The band’s application asks Ingerbelle be designated as a new project and therefore subject to environmental assessment, a process that could take between three and five years.
“It’s not about money,” said LSIB Chief Keith Crow. “It’s about the land and its impacts.”
Many of the concerns brought forward by the LSIB centre on the protection of the Similkameen River.
“Our river, that is the lifeblood of our valley,” said Crow.
“We are not anti-mining. You know we will support the mine if they can meet the water quality standards that we want to see. They can work with us to make sure the environment is protected as much as they can.”
Crow and other band members have not yet spoken with Hudbay executives, but said he hopes to arrange a meeting soon.
If the two parties can reach an agreement on tailings security, water, fish and wildlife protection, as well as reclamation issues, LSIB would be willing to withdraw its request, Crow added.
According to Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne, who is a member of the Upper Similkameen Indian Band (USIB), the municipality supports the Ingerbelle expansion and will make an official submission to that effect.
“We stand behind our mine,” said Coyne, noting the company’s significant contribution to local economies throughout the valley and its role as a good corporate citizen.
The mine employs 500 people, and approximately 75 of them self-identify as Indigenous.
A spokesperson for Hudbay said the company hopes to proceed with Ingerbelle Pit expansion in a timely fashion.
The New Ingerbelle Mine Continuation Project could be the next phase scheduled to be mined in the life of mine plan for Copper Mountain Mine.
“The Copper Mountain main pit already has a long life and a sizable resource, and if New Ingerbelle is delayed, we will evaluate alternative mine plans to ensure continuous and sustained long-term operations at Copper Mountain,” stated Candace Brule.
The Ingerbelle Pit is a previously-mined area, and the new project calls for an expansion of about 16 per cent.
“Hudbay’s Copper Mountain Mine is committed to being environmentally responsible and providing prosperity in the communities in which we operate…We are committed to working with the LSIB and USIB in a respectful manner,” said the company in a statement
Boundary-Similkameen MLA Roly Russell confirmed under existing provincial guidelines, an environmental assessment is not required for the Ingerbelle project.
But he added any individual or group can make an application to trigger that process.
“We have fairly diligent and robust tools to regulate industries…We have a good balance of safety and economic activity…Mine operations are still (subject to) the Mines Act and the Environment Protection Act,” said the MLA.
Russell said Indigenous concerns and input are increasingly sought and regarded under new legislation.
The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Act was passed in B.C. in 2019.
“It’s essentially a filter that everything we do passes through,” he said.
“It is front and centre of every conversation…It impacts almost everything, and I think we all recognize and see that.”
Hudbay Minerals acquired Copper Mountain on June 20.
The following day The LSIB and the USIB issued a joint press release criticizing the operation.“Our relationship with CMM is strained and trust has always been an issue,” said LSIB Chief Keith Crow in the release.“Our focus has always been the impacts to land and water…If the relationship does not improve with Hudbay, we are prepared for action.”
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