Ever since the Ajax mine issue came into the public spotlight five years ago, public debate has centered on its potential impact — good and bad — on the city of Kamloops.
In reality though, Ajax is a regional issue, beginning with the fact that the mine, while very close to Kamloops, would actually be located in an electoral area of the Thompson Nicola Regional District.
That in itself makes it a regional issue. But, of course, there are many possible impacts to rural residents. Negatives include the loss of ranchland and at least one lake, loss of wildlife species, and dust pollution carried on winds that don’t recognize municipal boundaries.
On the other side of the argument is the creation of jobs and economic development that would benefit residents on a regional basis.
Some Kamloops City councillors have long argued that they don’t really have a horse in this race because the City has no authority to say yay or nay on whether the mine goes ahead.
That’s also much the case for the TNRD. Within the next couple of months, KGHM Ajax will approach the TNRD for development and zoning permits as well as an application to allow non-farm use of Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) land within the mine area.
The TNRD has no authority to prohibit mining via its zoning bylaws. With respect to the ALR, it has three options — forward the Ajax proposal to the ALR with a recommendation, forward without comment, or reject it. If the regional district board said no to Ajax on the ALR, the company could bypass the TNRD and go directly to the land commission.
Nevertheless, the TNRD can take a position on Ajax just as the City of Kamloops (or any other municipality in the region, for that matter) can. The TNRD board hasn’t yet chosen to do that.
At a recent board meeting attended by a KGHM delegation, I asked a number of questions including one related to the regional impacts of Ajax, and suggested that the company has focused heavily on issues relating to Kamloops, and less so on impacts to the region as a whole.
It was a semi-rhetorical “what about us” sort of question but I wondered about such things as community benefit and mitigation.
KGHM Ajax has recently changed course in its approach to setting out what community benefits will be provided to the City. Community benefits in the context of Ajax are essentially compensation payments for costs to the public caused by the mine. For example, the City might contend that development of the mine will create pressures on Kamloops’ recreation facilities, costing City taxpayers more money to operate them, and that KGHM should pay a community benefit.
KGHM Ajax has decided to examine community benefits through a community advisory committee that it will establish, instead of through City Hall. It’s unclear whether that committee will include consideration of impacts on the TNRD as well as the City, or how benefits will be allocated.
However, it’s certainly clear that rural residents have a stake in the outcome of Ajax, and need to be part of the conversation.