Report says Ajax will drive down property values, increase disease rates

proposed Ajax copper and gold mine south of the city will lower property values in Aberdeen and Sahali

The proposed Ajax copper and gold mine south of the city will lower property values in Aberdeen and Sahali, bring higher rates of pollution-causing disease and decrease tourism and tournament activity in Kamloops, according to a report released on Friday, Sept. 26.

Ken Blawatt, a retired Thompson Rivers University business professor, and Dennis Karpiak, a retired respirologist, co-authored the 35-page report, which was completed  over a one-year period.

The two men told reporters they consulted journals and experts where possible and used conservative figures in their findings.

“It doesn’t represent what Ken and I have to say, but what a 100 or more scientists have to say,” Karpiak said at a press conference at Hotel 540 used to release the findings.

Earlier last week, a summary made available in advance of the release totalled economic losses created by the mine at $6.2 billion, compared to its economic benefits, primarily in jobs and taxes, at $2.2 billion.

Most of those losses are due to its location within kilometres of existing city residences, Blawatt said.

“If they can move the mine 10 or 15 kilometres away, then the problem virtually goes away.

Ajax officials said they cannot comment because they have not yet seen the report.

In all cases, Blawatt said, the report used conservative figures to estimate environmental or health damages, for example. That also includes the report’s estimate that property values in Aberdeen, Sahali and Dufferin will fall by five per cent. That equates to a $155-million decline in property values.

Blawatt said some estimates have placed real-estate losses in comparable communities at 30 to 40 per cent, but noted he and Karpiak chose a lesser figure.

“In other jurisdictions where mining moved in, the resulting losses were much higher,” the report states.

Among the highest costs from the mine cited in the report are from health care. It cites a Swedish study that found more than 100 studies have found adverse health effects from higher levels of PM 2.5, or tiny dust particles.

“That will cause increase in respiratory symptoms, worsening of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), airway infections including pneumonias as well as worsening of cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes,” the report states.

Karpiak said that will is likely to deter sport tourism — another factor added up among the costs of the mine.

The retired medical doctor acknowledged, however, the study lacks data expected to come from Ajax consultants who will project how much dust will be created at the site and how much of that material will make its way into the city’s airshed.

“We don’t know until the mine is built — then we’ll know,” Karpiak said.

While Blawatt and Karpiak said the report, titled Economic, Health and Environmental Evaluation at Full Cost for the Proposed Ajax Mine, is based on facts, studies and expert opinion, they acknowledged lack of funding meant they couldn’t do surveys, for example.

In that absence, the study predicts, for example, a five per cent drop in international students at Thompson Rivers University — citing a cost of $17 million a year and $342 million over the life of the mine — a percentage figure Blawatt said he arrived at after speaking with former colleagues.

Neither the report nor its two authors shied away from highly charged language.

During a question-and-answer session with reporters, Karpiak gave the example of a young soccer player who comes here for a tournament and “wakes up gasping with newly diagnosed asthma.

“I and every respirologist I know will provide evidence in a courtroom … you won’t see an Ajax operation in conjunction with the Tournament Capital [program].”

Much of the more than $6 billion in costs cited in the report comes from remediation the authors predict will be eventually paid for by taxpayers, decades or a century into the future when KGHM, the Polish mining company behind the project, may not even exist. To come up with that conclusion, the report uses Yellowknife’s Giant mine, among Canada’s most toxic sites, as well as other mining environmental disasters.

Other issues of concern in the report include the loss of B.C. Lions training camp, a five-point reduction in IQs of children, an increase in suicide, the loss of vacationers who will avoid the city, pollution of the water table and Jacko Lake, contamination of Peterson Creek, potential loss of the Adams Lake salmon run, collapse of the hospitality industry and daily blasting damage.

Blawatt also said some of Ajax’s projected economic-benefit numbers come from reallocation of jobs — from Northern Alberta and Highland Valley Copper, for example — from where many experienced workers will come.