Editorial – Mining in the Elk Valley

We’re stuck with mining forever, so we have to work with what we’ve got

The balancing act being played out in the Elk Valley is a fascinating one in that such a beautiful part of the world can have such incredible industry rattling away within.

Having spent the past few years reporting on the mining industry I’m not at all surprised that the communities of the Elk Valley would not so much be divided, but have split personalities in their feelings towards mining.

After all, its jobs for thousands, but it’s also environmentally damaging. Ripping rocks out of the ground does that.

Mining is by its very nature a temporary endeavor. Resources run out, and operators have to look elsewhere. As one of the many great thinkers of the industry once explained to me, mines ‘eventually consume themselves’.

Fording River has been in production for decades, so it’s no surprise it’s coming towards the end of its life. Given Teck is a large company, it makes sense that it would be searching for what’s next for that particular operation, and thinking about the workers it employs.

It’s not some flash-in-the-pan venture, here to get rich off a deposit and get out quick, leaving the mess to the locals.

Whatever some people may think, that the company has a long-term outlook is far better than the above alternative, which is a story that has been played out all over the world.

Long-term means responsibility and ownership of issues, so we can consider ourselves lucky that Teck is investing in ways to mitigate water pollution and by their own account, play by the federal governments rules. No doubt, many will say it’s far too little and far too late, but the fact remains that we as a society are stuck with mining forever, so we need to work with what we get. Mining is needed to support the society we’ve built, and even more so, the green economy that we want (feel free to fight me on that point).

But, back to the pollution issue. The reason why having a company that is in it for the long haul is good, is because it’s more likely to clean up after itself. After all, it’s staffed by locals, and local support is a massive part of what keeps projects viable.

Up at the corporate levels, the industry is well aware that it has ‘image problems’ and needs to do better. I’ve sat in on so many presentations on just that subject, I could probably write a CEO’s stump speech in my sleep. The basic gist is: environmental attention bad, credit for heading off that attention good. I’m not dismissing their self-awareness, rather raising the point that they know they have a problem, and they also know that their jobs are easier if they play by the rules and clean up after themselves. So I am not going to dismiss their efforts out of some basic, poorly thought out idea that all mining is bad and must stop.

Having said that, to the environmentalists and activists working to keep the industry on its toes: please keep up the good work. The industry knows it has a problem because of you. As important as mining is, safe and accessible drinking water is a human right. While here in Canada we might be able to find other sources of water (and there are so many), it would be nice to regard the waters of the Elk River to be safe and drinkable, regardless of who is dumping what into it, by accident or otherwise.

And another thing…

The Trites-Leroux mansion seems to be one of those cases where everybody wants the right thing, but nobody is going to get exactly what they want. For the sake of preserving such an understated but important piece of architectural history, I hope that a compromise can be reached that keeps as many people as possible happy, and that that compromise includes a fully-restored Trites-Leroux mansion.

Everything else around the discussion is just the give and take involved in such a negotiation. The staff of the City of Fernie clearly stated on Aug. 10 that they believed the compromise written up between them and the owners of the mansion was regarded as an acceptable trade-off to ensure the future of the mansion, and I am inclined to agree.

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