THE PRESIDENT of the company that wants to open a molybdenum mine north of here remains confident it will receive environmental approval.
But Craig Nelsen of Avanti Mining, who once hoped approval for its Kitsault mine plan wouldn’t take the full assessment period of 180 days, now says it will take that long.
“It’s just the kind of process that’s at work here,” said Nelsen of the review which began at the end of April. “There are simply a lot of steps that have to be done. But I think we are clearly on track.”
Avanti’s mine plans indicate there’s enough molybdenum for an operating life approaching 17 years based on a development cost of approximately $800 million.
Molybdenum has a number of uses, including as a hardening agent in steel alloys.
Nelsen and other Avanti officials have been holding public meetings in the area. The list includes sessions in the Nass Valley, as part of the assessment process.
There’s road access to Kitsault north from the Nass Valley and the location is 200 kilometres by road from Terrace.
Avanti officials have also been meeting with assessment officials, other government officials and First Nations representatives to go over details of the project.
One of Avanti’s more immediate tasks is winnowing down an application of more than 8,000 pages to a core document of up to 80 pages, said Nelsen.
“It’s robust, but not without questions,” said Nelsen of the application.
The shorter document will contain what Nelsen calls a series of commitments leading to a project that can then receive environmental certification.
Two of those commitments will revolve around water quality at the mine site and the transportation route to be taken by trucks carrying ore concentrate.
“We’re committed to having no effect on the water quality,” said Nelsen.
“We want our project to be a reflection of the baseline conditions that are there right now.”
Protection of water also figures into Avanti’s discussions with the Nisga’a of the Nass Valley to secure broad approval, usually called a social license, for the project.
While not within the Nisga’a Nation lands, the Kitsault area is part of the Nisga’a traditional territory.
“People are skeptical but at the same time they are pragmatic about the opportunities, mainly for their children,” said Nelsen of responses from the Nisga’a at meetings held in the Nass Valley.
Some of the Nisga’a skepticism is rooted in previous molybdenum mining projects in Kitsault, the last one being in the early 1980s.
Avanti, in its environmental approval filings now being reviewed, has outlined plans for local training and hiring for a construction workforce and then for an operating workforce.
The transportation issue revolves around Avanti’s plan to truck out its ore concentrate using the east-west Cranberry Connector route that runs approximately 30km from the Nass Valley to Hwy37 north of Kitwanga.
From there trucks will continue south to Hwy16 and then to Vancouver where the concentrate will be loaded onto freighters for delivery to customers.
The Gitanyow, who have traditional territory along the Connector route, aren’t in favour of its use during the winter for fear of the impact on moose populations.
The Cranberry is designated as a forest service road and is not a highway and is not normally maintained during the winter.
Avanti would maintain the road meaning it could also be used by others.
“To not use that road during the winter would be a big sacrifice for us so we need to keep that option open and find out how to protect the moose,” said Nelsen.
“We had a conservation officer in and he suggested the situation with the moose population is not that they would be hit by trucks, but that there would be poaching,” he added.
The suggested solution, Nelsen continued, would be having more conservation officers on duty in the area and it was also suggested Avanti might consider paying for that.
“But we’re going to be paying an awful lot of taxes and we’re saying [the province] might find their way to add a couple more conservation officers from that,” said Nelsen.
Avanti’s 180-day clock with the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office ends Oct. 28.
To date, Avanti has spent $15 million on its environmental studies and that’s part of an overall project expenditure of $70 million.