THE TAHLTAN Nation and the provincial government are close to finalizing a deal to provide a share of the millions of dollars in mineral revenue taxation the province will collect from the Red Chris copper and gold mine owned by Imperial Metals.
Located on Tahltan traditional territory off of Hwy37 North near Iskut, the mine is in its final stages of reaching normal production and has already been shipping out ore concentrate.
A draft agreement has already been reached and the parties now have to ratify the document.
Terms were not released but similar mineral tax agreements signed by the province with other First Nations for other mines provide them with anywhere from 12.5 to 37.5 per cent of what the province collects.
“We anticipate the agreement will be ratified within the next few months,” a statement from the provincial government indicated.
On the Tahltan side, it must be ratified by the Tahltan Central Council, the Iskut Band at Iskut and the Tahltan Band at Dease Lake and Telegraph Creek.
This would be the second such mineral tax agreement signed by the province in northwestern B.C.
The first, signed with the Nisga’a Nation last year, will provide it with an estimated $43 million in tax revenues over the projected 16 year life of the planned Avanti Kitsault molybdenum mine.
The mineral tax revenue agreement follows another revenue sharing deal agreed to by Tahltan Nation members two weekends ago with the Imperial Metals subsidiary which is operating the Red Chris mine.
This agreement sets out a goal of 40 per cent direct Tahltan employment at the mine, other employment and business opportunities, environmental monitoring and payments to be made by the mine to the Tahltan Nation.
The agreement was approved by 86.9 per cent of the 495 Tahltan members who voted out of an eligible voting pool of 2,100 people.
Tahltan Central Council president Chad Day noted that the agreement contains environmental protection conditions.
“The agreement also brings local jobs, careers and training for our people and their families. That’s good for our nation and it’s good for the mine,” he said.
One of the environmental oversight provisions is protection for mine employees who wish to report incidents or concerns.
Economic details were not released but similar deals signed by other companies with other First Nations call for the latter to receive two per cent of net smelter royalties from the sale of mine output.
Revenue received would go into a trust with disbursements to be made.
Imperial Metals vice-president Steve Robertson said the company was happy with the Tahltan approval of the agreement.
“[The agreement] establishes the framework for a long-term relationship between the Tahltan people and the company,” he said.
There are now 310 directly employed people at the mine, a number that will drop to 280 once work is finished leading to full production this summer.
At a goal of 40 per cent Tahltan employment, the direct Tahltan workforce would reach 112 people.
“Our direct employment First Nations workforce is above 25 per cent and if our long-term contractors (catering company and Tahltan Nation Development Corporation) are included we are just a shade off 35 per cent,” said Robertson of the current situation.
Terms of the agreement call for preferential Tahltan hiring and a commitment to place Tahltan at every level of mine operations.
The agreement does not oblige Tahltan to publicly support the mine which was last year the location of several blockades by Tahltan worried about what would happen should the mine’s tailings pond fail. That prompted an independent study and recommendations to improve the tailings pond engineering.
And not in the agreement was any condition requiring the Tahltan Central Council to use its best efforts to stop Tahltan from delaying or stopping the project.
That condition was one of the features of an economic impacts agreement signed between the central council and AltaGas for its Iskut run-of-river hydroelectric projects.
“The design of our agreement was intended to provide a partnership mindset and there is a strong focus on working together. We spent a great deal of time establishing the cooperative language that will direct our actions as we work together,” said Robertson by way of explanation.