The more you look at the Environment Ministrys handling of the Morrison Mine proposal, the more unusual it gets.As discussed here Saturday, the government turned thumbs down last week on an open-pit project northwest of Smithers. Its only the second mine to be refused an environmental assessment certificate. Thats surprising, given the B.C. Liberals strong support for the industry over the years. Premier Christy Clark has been an ardent supporter of industrial development that creates family-supporting jobs. One of her first moves after taking office was to lobby Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reverse Ottawas rejection of a different mine proposal, Tasekos Prosperity Mine.B.C. approved that project in 2010 only to see the federal government reject it, a strange state of affairs.But the Morrison Mines paper trail in the Environmental Assessment Office is even stranger, because its clear that the former executive director, Derek Sturko, overruled his own department in submitting a recommendation against the mine to the two ministers charged with making the decision.Energy, Mines and Natural Gas Minister Rich Coleman and Environment Minister Terry Lake accepted that recommendation and signed off against the project last month.But the 205-page environmental assessment offices report actually favoured the project. The EAO said it was satisfied the company had considered all the impacts, consulted fully with First Nations and identified practical ways to prevent or reduce any potential negative effects.No direct or indirect significant adverse effect is predicted or expected (with the successful implementation of mitigation measures and conditions), it concluded.The technical report considered virtually every conceivable aspect of the copper-gold-molybdenum mine, which would have been located near the headwaters of the Skeena River. And on every count, it concluded that with proper mitigation there would be no significant adverse effects. That held on the issues of water quality, aquatic resources, fish, ecosystems and wetlands, wildlife, air quality, cultural foods, terrain hazard, and social and economic impacts. Yet a short time after the report was completed, Sturko wrote a 30-page recommendation to the ministers. He summarized the technical report, but urged them to consider additional factors and adopt a risk/benefit approach. Despite the earlier finding of no significant impact on fish, he said there could be an impact on Skeena sockeye if the mitigation efforts were unsuccessful. He cited a number of technical design concerns and stressed the First Nations opposition to the mine, then recommended against.(Fully one-third of the EAOs technical report was taken up with the long, tangled history of the First Nations involvement in the process.)Local First Nations welcomed the decision, but are still skeptical of the EAO process because it appeared to approve the mine, before the ministers rejected it. After the ministers decision was announced, Pacific Bookers share price dropped from the $15 range to $4.Chief operating officer Erik Tornquist said Tuesday there is an obvious disconnect between the EAO report and Sturkos recommendation.Its difficult to understand.He said the company is still committed to the project and is examining its options while it waits for the federal environmental report, which is expected in several weeks.Lake said Sturko considered the EAO document, but took other reports into account as well, as he is expected to do.He said it came down to not having a high degree of confidence that all the mitigation efforts devised during the years the mine was in the approval process would work.Lake said some of the measures like a five-square-kilometre membrane on the bottom of a lake were way outside the box, and he associated it with mining on the moon.He found that despite all the study, there were still unanswered questions.Sturko was named deputy minister of agriculture soon after, a move Lake said arose out of a coincidental deputy shuffle.The decision attracted fairly minimal coverage, which is exactly what the B.C. Liberals wanted.The company and the mining industry are fuming privately, but are staying relatively quiet.It looks as if B.C. doesnt want a repeat of the Prosperity process, which embarrassed the ministry.And with Clark continuing to confound people on the Northern Gateway pipeline, the government doesnt want any more trouble on the environmental front or with First Nations for the time being.
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