The B.C. government is paying $18.3 million to buy out 61 coal mining licences in the Klappan region of northwestern B.C., to work with the Tahltan Nation on a management plan.
The government is calling the move a "permit deferral," including a 10-year option for Fortune Minerals and Korea-based POSCO Canada to buy back the permits at the same price once an agreement on mining development is reached with the Tahltan.
Known internationally as the Sacred Headwaters, where the Nass, Skeena and Stikine Rivers arise, the region has been a focus of mining protest before. In 2012 the province bought back coalbed gas leases awarded to Shell Canada in 2004.
The anthracite coal mining licences have been purchased by BC Rail, which decades ago attempted to extend track to Dease Lake for mining development. The railway still has legislative authority to acquire coal mines and associated lands, and cash reserves to buy the Klappan licences.
Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said the Tahltan, industry and the province all have an interest in agreeing on a development plan for the area, about midway between Stewart and Dease Lake.
Bennett said the companies remain interested in developing a large metallurgical coal mine on the property, and without the purchase announced Monday, the province could have ended up in court.
Northwest B.C. has multiple metal and coal mines on the drawing board, and the recent completion of a power line along Highway 37 has sparked development interest.
B.C. signed a shared decision-making agreement with the Tahltan Central Council in 2013, when the Tahltan administration was dealing with about 250 exploration applications a year over a territory about half the size of Washington state.