Harper Creek copper mine researches socioeconomic impact

There came a moment last Wednesday when this editor of the Clearwater Times switched from being surprised if the proposed Harper Creek copper mine actually goes ahead to being surprised if it doesn’t.

It was a bit of a cumulative process during the public meeting and open house held that day in the North Thompson Resource Center to discuss the environmental impacts of the project. However, the turning point likely came during a presentation by Yellowhead Mining CEO Ian Smith.

Smith said that he had successfully overseen the start-up of several copper mines at various locations around the world and he wasn’t about to have a failure at this stage in his career.

That got me saying to myself, “These guys are serious,” which in turn got me thinking about the implications of the mine to this community and to the North Thompson Valley.

Smith said constructing the mine is projected to create up to 500 jobs. Once in operation, the mine would give work to 400 people directly plus 1,200 indirectly throughout the region and province.

Some of those who have been coping with the local economic downturn caused by Weyerhaeuser’s shutdown and then Canfor’s temporary closure might say, “Our problems are solved.”

It isn’t that simple, however.  That many new jobs would mean an influx of people. What kind of people come to live here would largely depend on what kind of community there is to receive them.

Also, we have to remember that the mine is predicted to last 22 years. What will happen then? After the boom, will this community and the Valley enter another bust phase? Even before the ore runs out, mines historically have stopped operations for various reasons and then started up again. Having a stable and resilient community would help ensure good quality people would stay around during any temporary closures.

According to Smith, the mine will cost $760 million to construct. That’s a lot of change, and we can be sure that the decision makers at Yellowhead Mining and at any other partners they might bring in won’t want to spend a penny unnecessarily.

On the other hand, having a stable and qualified workforce nearby would be an important factor in the mine’s long-term success.

Yellowhead Mining has at least two consultants working on identifying and mitigating any socioeconomic impacts of the project. They have just started on their work, however, and need public input to do their jobs properly. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency made $50,000 available to assist groups and individuals to take part in the environment assessment, which would include socio-economic studies. Unfortunately, the deadline for applying for the funding passed before last Wednesday’s open house, and no local applications were received.

The federal government should extend that deadline by another month. District of Clearwater council and Wells Gray Country services committee should use some of that $50,000 to hire a knowledgeable person to work with Yellowhead Mining and other interested groups to develop effective local strategies to deal with this new socio-economic situation.