Cariboo Regional District chair Al Richmond said when he makes a presentation on behalf of the board for the New Prosperity environmental review hearings he’ll talk about the economic value the project would bring to the Cariboo Chilcotin, but he will also be very firm that environmental standards cannot be compromised.
“We’re not going to say that it should be approved at all costs, I don’t think anyone would,” Richmond said. “We also want to find some solutions to work with the communities that are directly impacted and find solutions for the concerns they’ve expressed.”
At its regular board meeting Friday, July 12, the CRD board passed a motion to make a presentation to the environmental review panel.
Various directors spoke for or against the board making a presentation.
Area E director Byron Kemp argued in favour, saying it’s an important project for the region.
“The way things are deteriorating right now within our areas as far as economics go, and I know having lived out in that area, and listening to presentations we have had on the project, that it would be very much in order for us to bring a presentation forward,” he said.
Area J Director Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William said he would prefer that the CRD board remain neutral.
“I don’t think anyone here has a feel for what their constituents think about this,” William said. “I’ve been involved with this mine since the 1990s. When we went to the panel hearings in 2010 we heard there were a lot of people against the project and since then there have been a lot of concerns.”
Area F director Joan Sorley said she hoped the board would remain neutral.
“If we are not going to support our First Nations constituents who are opposed to this project, I think at least we should remain neutral,” Sorley said. “In the communities that I represent we know first hand what happens when other interests try to come in and impose their objectives on the community.”
Director Bischoff agreed the board should remain neutral and said the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency should be left to do its job.
Williams Lake Mayor Kerry Cook said in some of her conversations, chiefs and community members have told her they understand the city’s position in supporting the project as long as it meets the environmental approval.
“New Prosperity could have a huge economic impact for the city and the region. I think we would be remiss not to provide some type of submission, but the challenge is in the wording of the submission,” Cook said. “What I don’t want to see happen is to take away from any of the good work that has happened to move forward with relationships with First Nations.”
Quesnel Mayor Mary Sjostrom said making a presentation is not taking a stand.
“I think we’re showing leadership by saying we know we have economic difficulties,” Sjostrom said.
“We’re doing a presentation on behalf of the City of Quesnel and we’re not going in there to say we are adamantly supporting this. We will be saying we support the process and I don’t think by staying silent we would be sending the right message.”
Area L director John Rattray said the board needs to be “very” careful not to send the wrong message.
“Mayor Cook is correct that it’s tough to get that message right,” Rattray said. “I’m concerned and believe the safest way to go is to not participate in the hearings because that’s one way of ensuring not to get the message wrong.”
Rattray also said he cannot speak on behalf of his constituents because they are split.
Area I director Jim Glassford said because the board represents everyone in the region, it has to go through the process.
“If it’s not environmentally sound they will either change it or it won’t go,” he said. “If the project is environmentally friendly and does move ahead it will be an economic driver for the region.”
Richmond said the Cariboo Chilcotin is divided on the project, both within First Nations and non-First Nations, and he does not think the CRD can clearly articulate what the community wants.
“I think we will have to rely on the hearings to take it into context and rationalize what the reality is,” Richmond said.
The General Public Hearing sessions are scheduled to take place in Williams Lake July 22-25 in the Gibraltar Room of the Cariboo Memorial Complex.
The deadline to register as a participant for the General Hearing sessions is Thursday July 18. Further information about the Federal environmental assessment process is available online at ceaa-acee.gc.ca.