THE TAHLTAN Central Council is disputing this week’s appointment by the provincial government of a mediator to resolve the conflict between protestors and a company doing preliminary work on a coal mine in the Klappan Valley located within Tahltan traditional territory.
Tahltan Central Council president Annita McPhee said hiring Geoff Freer, a construction consultant and former energy and mines ministry official, to find a way forward for the Fortune Minerals anthracite coal project is an act of “unilateralism” that dishonours a previous shared decision making agreement.
“In one ill-advised, poorly worded and insulting press release, the province has pre-judged that the Fortune Minerals’ Arctos project should proceed, even though it hasn’t yet gone through their own assessment process,” said McPhee.
According to McPhee, the government appointing a mediator without first consulting the Tahltan “backtracks on the working group which we set up last week.”
“We had no prior knowledge that the province was about to appoint a mediator,” McPhee said in the release. “This decision was made without consultation or agreement on what this person’s mandate might be.”
Just last week the province and the Tahltan announced what they called a strategic initiative in which senior government officials and Tahltan would work on long term conservation strategies in the Klappan, an area cherished for cultural and spiritual reasons by the Tahltan.
The group would also consider the interests of third parties in the Klappan Valley, such as Fortune Minerals.
Environmentalists, who want the Sacred Headwaters area protected because of the sensitive wetlands and springs, have joined forces with the Tahltan protestors in blockading roads and drill sites in recent weeks.
Fortune Minerals said today it was considering applying for a court injunction that could eventually lead to the arrests of protestors hindering ongoing work that would lead to applying for environmental clearance to develop a coal mine.
“We are looking at all available options,” said Fortune investment manager Troy Nazarewicz, and “are committed to constructive and mutually beneficial relations. As such, an injunction is an option when protestors are acting unreasonably and set on undertaking illegal activities.”
The Tahltan Central Council has said it is not organizing the protests, and want the Arctos Anthracite project terminated on legal grounds, citing indigenous rights to self-determination.
Anita McPhee acknowledged that according to previous permitting and other agreements that Fortune Minerals has a legal right to be doing its current environmental work.
“They have the legal right to do that. But through the strategic initiative we want to look at ways to protect the Klappan,” said McPhee.
A Fortune Minerals press release today says that “Fortune respects the right to peaceful protest but it does not support illegal actions and will take all appropriate actin to protect its rights. It believes the appropriate forum to discuss interest and concerns is through the [environmental assessment] process where all opinions are head and issues are examined in detail.”
Fortune states it has permits authorizing “a limited amount of geotechnical drilling to gather information that will be used in the environmental assessment.”
McPhee said provincial press releases make it look as if it is aiming for a negotiated land settlement that will allow Fortune’s coal mine to go ahead.
“We wouldn’t even have agreed to talk to them [the government working group] if we were weren’t going to look at the Arctos project. Why would we look at a protection measure and not look at Arctos?” said McPhee.