Reacting to what it calls “disruptive and damaging protests,” Fortune Minerals Ltd., the company that wants to build a coal mine in the Klappan Valley against the wishes of local Tahltan First Nation, says it is leaving the area.
“Fortune will voluntarily cease its summer field program activities and withdraw from the project site for several months to allow the Tahltan and BC governments to continue their talks,” says a Sept. 23 press released.
The announcement came after an eventful few days that saw a group of Tahltan members and elders and others blockade access to the Fortune camp, demanding that the company leave.
Fortune set up a camp in early July to collect environmental and other information to be used in an application which, if granted, will lead to development of a coal mine.
Provincial mines minister Bill Bennett visited the protestors Sept. 21.
“They told him they were willing to be arrested if that is what it took,” said Tahltan Central Council president Annita McPhee in her own press release.
RCMP Constable Lesley Smith said that the police, who have had their own camp set up between the protestors and Fortune since mid August, allowed the protests to unfold without making arrests.
Fortune Minerals, based in London, Ont., said earlier this month that its work wouldn’t go beyond the end of September anyway, and that it plans to return next year to gather enough data to apply for an environmental review sometime late 2014 or the beginning of 2015.
Earlier this month a committee of senior government and Tahltan officials was formed to recommend ways of protecting all of or some of the Klappan Valley. Its recommendations are to be studied by the provincial cabinet early next year.
Fortune has made it clear it will pursue its coal mine plan and that any settlement with the government would be costly because it has already sunk millions of dollars into the project.
In yesterday’s release, company CEO Robin Goad said that “while the company has made the decision to give the time and space needed for discussions, there is still a full commitment on the part of both Fortune and its [South Korean] partner to move forward with the environmental assessment and the project”.
The province hired a mediator last week to work with Fortune and the Tahltan on an arrangement that would protect part of the Klappan while allowing the Arctos Anthracite Project to proceed, a scenario the Tahltan rejected because they want the entire area protected.
The Tahltan also criticized a news release announcing the mediator’s appointment, saying it was done without speaking to them first.
Bennett, while in the Klappan Sept. 21, apologized for sending out the news release earlier than first planned.