Time crunch is coming on Ajax mine review

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
January 14, 2017 - 5:00am

KAMLOOPS — Things are about to get interesting again on the Ajax front.

Monday, the City’s Industrial Tax Base Task Force will meet with KGHM to talk some more about a community compensation agreement (“partnership agreement” in Ajax-speak), without Mayor Peter Milobar.

That’s because the mayor took himself off the task force last month and appointed Coun. Ken Christian instead. Christian will sit in with Pat Wallace and Dieter Dudy.

So, what’s the significance of this? Calling the meeting could reflect an expectation that the countdown clock for the environmental review is about to start again.

My understanding is that KGHM asked for the meeting. The company has indicated most of the responses it needs to provide the B.C. Environmental Assessment office are complete except for some odds and ends.

That means the approval process — which was put on pause at KGHM’s request last April — could resume very soon, though that decision is up to the BCEAO, not KGHM.

If I was KGHM, I’d want the agreement with the City done sooner rather than later, for the optics. If I was the City, I’d want to wait for the project review commissioned from SLR Consulting to be finished, so I could have all the ammunition in front of me when dealing with the mine.

Time is getting very tight indeed for that report to be of any use. The approval process is stalled at Day 107 of the 180-day review period. The pause, requested by KGHM last April so it could have more time to answer questions and comments about the project, was expected to last only a few weeks but dragged on through the fall and the Christmas season into the new year.

From the City’s perspective, a best-case scenario would be to get the final SLR report before the trigger is pulled on restarting the review. It could carefully review the report, develop a position on the application, and submit it to the Environmental Assessment Office.

At the same time, it could be finalizing the compensation agreement with KGHM with all the relevant information in front of it.

But council might not have the luxury of time. Once the clock resumes ticking on the 180 days, there will be 73 days left in the review but that doesn’t mean the City has that much time to submit its position to the BCEAO.

City public works director Jen Fretz has told council the agency needs time within the 180 days to write its reports for cabinet ministers, so the City’s available time to study its own SLR report will be more like a couple of weeks after the countdown resumes.

So if the pause thaws this month, it will be panic time trying to bring everything together.

Another thought: As of Monday, the day KGHM and the City’s task force meet, there will be 86 days left (if my arithmetic is correct) until the writ is dropped for the May election. Theoretically, if the Ajax review re-starts next week there would be time to complete it before then. However, the final stage in the process is a 45-day review by the cabinet ministers who will give a green or a red light to the project, meaning the final decision won’t be made until post-election. A new government could make things even more interesting.