By Gary Park 

B.C. aboriginal groups block Kemess gold, copper mine expansion project


Last updated 10/31/2004 at Noon

Aboriginal groups in a remote corner of north-central British Columbia are resolutely opposed to plans by Vancouver-based Northgate Minerals to expand the Kemess gold and copper mine.

Northgate took over Kemess four years ago after the previous owner went bankrupt and now wants to open up a new pit about three miles from the existing operation.

It estimates the project would extend Kemess' operating life from 2009 to 2010, saving 400 jobs and pumping about C$150 million a year into the British Columbia economy.

But the initial low-grade deposit at the new site needs cash flow from the existing operation over the initial years until higher-grade ore is reached.

However, aboriginal people in the region, who currently make up 12 percent of Northgate's mine employees, object to Northgate's disposal of mine waste and tailings in the nearby Duncan Lake.

Joint environmental hearings by the Canadian and British Columbia governments started this year and Northgate has indicated it will file a final mine proposal before the end of 2004.

If the Native groups continue their opposition and mount a court challenge the targeted start-up date for the expansion of early 2006 could stretch beyond Northgate's ability to proceed.

For now, the aboriginal leadership shows no signs of weakening, having accused Northgate of failing to consult the community in the early stages.

Northgate President and Chief Executive Officer Ken Stowe is still hopeful that both sides can help each other to keep the project on track and work on further developments.

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