Sunday January 25, 2015

Ajax can learn from New Afton

With the New Afton copper-gold mine just a few months away from commercial production, it's a good time to reflect on how this mine compares with the one proposed for the Ajax site.

New Afton is outside City limits, although just barely. And it's a lot closer than many people realize — just a 15-minute drive from downtown.

Yet it has a much lower profile than what is expected from Ajax in terms of physical presence. When you drive by on the Trans-Canada Highway west of the city, it's obvious that there is some sort of industrial operation going on. But beyond that, it's not really something to take notice of.

One big difference with New Afton is that it is an underground mine. That means there will be no open pit visible from the road, although the new mine is adjacent to the old Afton pit. Also, there are not the gigantic waste piles that will come with Ajax. New Afton has a fairly large stockpile, but even that will go down once concentrate is shipped out on a regular basis.

The Ajax project would, of course, be partially within City limits. And it would be much closer to a residential area. The closest neighbour to New Afton is the rural community of Cherry Creek.

While the issues surrounding the proposed Ajax mine are complex, the issue of visibility is one that could easily be addressed. New Afton flies under the radar because there's not much to see if you're driving by.

KGHM, the proponents for Ajax, could take a major step toward acceptance among Kamloops residents if they would simply change their plans for a waste pile the size of a small mountain near the Coquihalla Highway. That pile could be moved elsewhere and be less of a presence for tourists — whose first impressions are important — coming into Kamloops. We want them to continue bringing their dollars here.

Moving the waste pile might make for a more costly operation, and we can understand why KGHM would be reluctant to do it. A bridge might have to be built across Peterson Creek to access it, and that can't be done with spare change.

Still, this is just the kind of hearts-and-minds investment the company should be looking at. It would be a major gesture that would make people sit up and take notice.

The copper and gold that KGHM is hoping to bring to market isn't going anywhere, and demand for it is expected to continue to gain strength. If they fail to come up with a satisfactory plan for getting it out of the ground, then someone else will.

We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by publisher Tim Shoults, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.

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