By Lauren Benn
MINERAL exploration in northwestern B.C. hit records in 2011 and governments and businesses alike are getting ready for more activity this year.
Eyes were on the region at a major mineral exploration conference in Vancouver last month where Terrace’s mayor and the city’s economic arm met with industry heads to talk preparation.
“There was an obvious buzz at the convention about the number of mining projects in northern B.C. that are moving toward the development stage,” said Terrace mayor Dave Pernarowski who attended the Mineral Exploration Roundup 2012 along with Evan Van Dyk from the Terrace Economic Development Authority (TEDA).
About $220 million was spent last year on mineral exploration in the Skeena area , a 22 per cent jump from 2010.
More money has been spent exploring here than any other region in B.C., accounting for half of last year’s provincial spending in the sector.
The region is now home to 54 drilling projects with 21 having spent more than $2 million.
TEDA had a booth set up at the Roundup conference in Vancouver.
Mayor Dave Pernarowski and TEDA officer Evan Van Dyk spoke with industry representatives there and also had nine formal meetings with executives of industry situating close to Terrace.
The central theme of the meetings concerned the use of local suppliers to service projects, understanding labour needs, and potential community gaps such as work force accommodations, said Pernarowski.
He added that faster access to necessary supplies was also discussed.
The Invest Northwest website was also promoted, and information for it collected and reviewed.
“I think what everyone is saying to us, as their projects proceed they’ll be keeping in contact with us to start ramping up labour needs and training,” said Pernarowski. “Labour shortage seems to be the biggest concern for these companies.”
Pernarowski also said there were several inquiries about setting up offices in Terrace.
One exploration company that’s been drilling about 200km northwest of Terrace near Alice Arm, Dolly Varden Silver Ltd., recently set up an office in Terrace.
Director Paul McGuigan said he liked Terrace because it has a strong base of local suppliers and also local skilled tradesmen.
To meet its labour needs, the company is looking to a local First Nation to meet demands.
“We’re going to be up at the Nisga’a economic forum,” said McGuigan “We’re going to need about 20 to 25 (workers) for the initial stages … double that in the higher stages.”
McGuigan added employment advantages will be given to the Nisga’a including the potential for training.
“We’re going to be giving every advantage to the Nisga’a for working there and also for the potential to be trained.”
Dolly Varden Silver Ltd. is not the only mineral exploration company looking to First Nations to meet labour demands.
Seabridge Gold Inc., an exploration company working near Stewart, recently donated $100,000 to a project aimed at readying local First Nations for employment.
“With so much development underway in northwestern BC, it’s already becoming a challenge for exploration and mining projects to find the people they need for their B.C. projects,” said Laurie Sterritt, executive director of the BC Aboriginal Mine Training Association.
“We know that more than 25 per cent of the mining industry will be retiring in the next 25 years,” she said. “That means that the aboriginal population is of particular interest.”
“There’s a focus on the Gitxan, Nisga’a and Tahltan,” she said, adding training will aim to ready people for entry level jobs.
“One of the gaps along the educational front is we’ve notice there is a lot of people working but those who aren’t working are lacking essential skills,” said Seabridge Gold vice president Brent Murphy. “They’re lacking the ability to converse and read at a grade 12 level and to be quite honest that’s the minimal level that’s required.”