FOULDS: Yes, it’s true — Ajax mine process has been impressive
Scott Bailey offered an open pit of valuable information, yet took some unnecessary blasts from those in attendance whose rigid opinions cannot be changed even with the most powerful excavators.
Bailey is executive project director with the province’s Environmental Assessment Office. As such, he is the guy co-ordinating the process through which the proposed Ajax mine application journeys.
He spoke to a decidedly anti-Ajax crowd during an event last week at Thompson Rivers University sponsored by the TRU Faculty Association and TRU Human Rights Committee.
Bailey was invited to give a presentation on how the environmental-assessment process works in general and where the Ajax application stands in particular.
Aided by environmental-assessment officer Lindsay McDonough, Bailey gave a thorough presentation, one that answered many questions and filled in many blanks for those wishing to know more about the process a project — be it a mine, a pipeline or ski-hill application — must navigate to become a reality or be rejected.
The problem with such forums related to Ajax, however, is the fact attendance is dominated by those who are opposed to the project — always and forever.
To be opposed, and intransigently so, is a democratic right, but to be opposed and attend a meeting intended to explain the process, then lob questions and statements at Bailey that have nothing to do with his jurisdiction is plain silly.
At one point, after an audience member delivered yet another comment completely irrelevant to the topic at hand (something about alleged lies told by an Ajax proponent and the pending mass exodus of people from Kamloops due to certain air-quality deterioration), Bailey reminded the crowd of his role.
When he said he didn’t care whether the Ajax mine proceeded or not, there were some gasps of indignation.
But, Bailey is correct.
As project manager, he is responsible for ensuring all technical analysis is completed, for ensuring all reports are finalized, for ensuring all problems have mitigation proposals and for ensuring the final report delivered to the provincial ministers of environment and mines and federal minister of environment is detailed, complete and ready for a decision.
Bailey does not care whether Ajax proceeds because Bailey cannot care.
Objectivity is the crucial aspect of his job, something many at last week’s forum failed to note as they lobbed questions and made statements that have nothing to do with Bailey’s role or his purpose in presenting his lecture.
(Objectivity is also part of the deal for Terry Lake, the Kamloops-North Thompson Liberal MLA and B.C.’s environment minister. He will be part of the decision-making process; therefore, it is incumbent upon him to stay out of the fray until the report is delivered, despite some ridiculous calls along the way that he get involved and “protect” Kamloops).
To be fair, there were some solid questions asked at the TRU event, some of which led to answers that enlightened me on the process.
Nothing, however, was made more clear than the fact the Ajax proposal is alone among all previous environment-assessment proposals in the magnitude of attention given the process.
No other project has seen Bailey’s office hire its own socio-economic consultant; no other project (save for one, possibly, decades ago) has seen the creation of a community advisory group; few other projects receive three (rather than one as required) public-consultation periods; few other projects are afforded the maximum 75-day public-commenting period; and few other projects require the proponent to hold community-consultation meetings.
And, as Bailey said, it is not often he engages in such an information session as the one at TRU last week.
“Yes, we are blazing new trails,” he said. “Under certain circumstances, we throw our whole toolbox at a project. This is one of those projects.”
All we as a community can ask is that the environmental-assessment process, with its stack of documents five-feet deep, is as thorough and objective and fair as possible.
Under the existing legislation (no, it is not perfect. For example, it requires consultation with affected First Nations, but not with affected municipalities and regional districts), it would appear Bailey and his crew are being as thorough and objective and fair as possible.
A decision on Ajax is likely at least a year away, based on the timeline of the process.
There is plenty of time for more opposition, more meetings, more information — and more rhetoric.