Reflections on Ajax: there must be a better way

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
December 16, 2017 - 8:43am


Word that a decision on Ajax was imminent came as a surprise Thursday afternoon. Most everybody had thought B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman and Mines Minister Michelle Mungall wouldn’t make an announcement until the new year.

There was, after all, a pile of stuff to read after six years of rancorous public debate, report after study after report, and starts and stutters in the review process.

But, they let it be known during the lunch hour Thursday that they’d announce their decision at 2 p.m., and they did.

A lot of people on both sides are saying it was no surprise. Easy to say that now, but the fact is nobody was taking anything for granted as they waited anxiously to hear the announcement. 

That evening, I found a bottle of sparkling wine I’d forgotten all about, which was fortuitous as the occasion called for a glass or two of bubbly. 

A lot of things have been going through my mind. Curiosity about what the federal half of the review will bring.

And nerves. Like if the right candidate wins an election by the slimmest of margins, but doesn’t want to declare victory until the other guy concedes.

Only when all possibility of a recount has been removed, and the opponent has packed his bags and left town, can you truly relax.

The examination of the Ajax proposal was so thorough, and the rejection of it by Heyman and Mungall so unequivocal, that I can’t see any room to challenge it, but you never know.

It also crosses my mind that no matter what, politicians must be politicians. The NDP and the Greens are onside with the decision, so our Liberal MLAs Milobar and Stone must lament the loss of jobs that might have been.

I’ve been thinking, too, of all that this means for that piece of country south of Kamloops. It won’t be despoiled after all. Jacko Lake, saved. Goose Lake, saved.

I thought of George Little, the rancher whose land would have been swallowed up by a huge tailings pond. He still lives on his ranch, but for the past several years has faced the prospect of being pushed off his land by the mine.

Nearby neighbours Richard and Sharon Antoniak reluctantly sold out to KGHM three years ago and moved.

“Our choices were bad, bad and worse,” Sharon told me then. “Our options were zip. We’re simply without a home.”

The winter before, George Little and I went for a drive around his ranch. We drove through the snow to a spot overlooking Edith Lake, then north into a small valley stretching toward Jacko.

It was there, in a now-decaying homestead, that he grew up. George is 83 now. I hadn’t talked with him for a long time, so on Thursday night I gave him a call.

He’s not an excitable man, but he seemed pleased that the land won’t be “wrecked,” and is hopeful he’ll be able to stay on it.

Like George, I’m glad it won’t all disappear under a toxic cesspool. Goose Lake, just down the road from George’s place, and once referred to by a KGHM spokesman as “a slough,” will remain for the enjoyment of those who appreciate the outdoors, especially the scenery and the wildlife around it.

A big open-pit mine obliterating the landscape would have been progress in some people’s minds. In my opinion, the rejection of Ajax is the true progress.

Most of all, I wonder why we had to endure six years as a community spending time and money and fighting over this.

There must be a better way.