The upcoming decision will determine whether the small community of Wells, B.C., becomes the location of a new gold mine. This prospect has created a division among the residents of this historic gold-rush district, which is home to only 220 people.
The Cariboo Gold Mine, which has successfully completed its environmental review recently, is now in the final stages of approval. The provincial cabinet ministers are expected to make their decision by Wednesday, determining whether the proposed $588-million project will proceed or not.
Osisko Development’s proposal to construct a mining building with a height of 36 meters and a length of 200 meters at the southern entrance of the community has sparked significant controversy. This project is planned to be located within the municipality’s boundaries.
Gabe Fourchalk, a former mayor of Wells and an equipment contractor for the mining company, expressed that a few friends have been lost. He mentioned that change often brings a sense of fear, causing some individuals to feel concerned.
In a tiny village, everyone has extremely strong bonds and is closely connected.
The community, situated about 100 kilometers to the southeast of Prince George, is most famous for Barkerville Historic Town and Park. This site serves as a museum and National Historic Site, showcasing the history of gold mining.
Many people living in the area have been employed at this significant local organization as re-enactment actors, guides, or vendors.
Fourchalk and his father worked as blacksmiths during the Gold Rush period. He stepped down from his position as mayor in 2021 due to disagreements related to mining.
“You’re always gonna have some ups and some downs, but overall this is a fantastic project,” he told CBC News. “It’s kind of fundamental that we have a little bit of the arts, culture, tourism and industry.
“It generates the necessary income for individuals to sustain themselves in a small community.”
Dirk Van Stralen, a dedicated employee at the Barkerville museum for many years, also holds ownership of the nearby Sunset Theatre and serves as an elected council member in Wells.
He expressed his objection solely to the positioning of the mine on the outskirts of the community.
He informed CBC News that most of the residents in the town support the idea of having a mine. However, they are not in favor of the specific plan due to its massive scale, comparable to having four Costcos placed one on top of another within the town area.
“It would essentially transform our town into an industrial area. Kindly reconsider this design and relocate it towards the south by a distance of 400 meters.”
‘Past and future that’s all laced with gold’
Osisko Development said it is has consulted extensively with the community, and will bring local investments and more than 450 jobs over the mine’s 16-year lifespan, according to revised plans filed last year.
According to the company’s filings, the underground mine is planned to operate continuously for 24 hours a day throughout the year. Its objective is to process approximately 4,000 tonnes of ore daily, with the aim of extracting a minimum of two million ounces of gold.
“We have made continuous efforts, starting from the initial idea, to improve the mining process and rectify the consequences of previous mining practices in Wells,” stated the company in a document submitted to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office. “Starting from 2016, we have actively collaborated with our Indigenous partners and the neighboring communities.”
The interactions contribute to the development of our project.
The company informed CBC News on Saturday that they have already reduced the height of the building by one-third in response to public concerns. They have also decided to cancel the construction of a mine entrance and water treatment facility near Wells.
However, according to company representative Philip Rabenok, alternative sites cannot be considered due to lack of technical feasibility and environmental sustainability. He mentioned that the current location has already been affected by mining activities, whereas the proposed alternatives are situated in habitats of endangered species and would necessitate the transportation of ore through Wells using trucks.
Resident CJ Johnston, who used to serve as the district’s tourism and development officer, now works as a Barkerville Gold Mines contractor as driver, first aid attendant and cashier.
She stated that a small group who are in strong opposition to the mine falsely claim they want to relocate its structure.
She stated that it is impossible to relocate the service building, explaining that its size is necessary in order to address the concerns of the nearby residents regarding noise, light, and dust caused by the nearby mine.
“Why are you bothering to close the barn door when the horse has already left?”
“I probably don’t desire to have a large and imposing building in front of Wells. However, I do want to contribute to the design and appearance of that service building.”
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She remarked on the irony that my adversaries reside exclusively in Wells due to its thriving tourism industry centered around gold.
“Not one drop of tourism in Wells would be there without gold,” she said. “An operating mine … could connect between our past and future that’s all laced with gold.”
Van Stralen stated that numerous individuals in the community are skeptical of the mining sector, which has previously resulted in significant economic decline and harmful contamination upon the closure of mines.
“I acknowledge that our current living conditions are a direct outcome of gold mining,” he stated. “However, the mining industry itself has not persisted as extensively as the tourism sector that has emerged in its aftermath.”
“I do not want it near my property.”
He disagrees with the claim that residents who are against the proposal are only objecting to it due to their fear of change, commonly known as “not in my backyard” (NIMBY).
“It’s actually ‘NIMFYism,'” he said. “Which is ‘not in my front yard.’ Because that’s actually what’s being proposed.”
The Environmental Assessment Office of British Columbia has announced that Cariboo Gold Mine is the inaugural project to undergo the recently updated review process for similar operations in the province.
After receiving input from First Nations, a local Community Advisory Council, and concerns from the Northern Health Authority regarding air quality effects, Osisko was instructed to implement measures to mitigate its impacts.
“I am pleased that the government is now responsible for making their decision,” Fourchalk stated. “It is no longer within the control of anyone else.”
I am confident that they will make the correct decision.