BC announces coal rights deferral deal in Sacred Headwaters area – by Dirk Meissner (Vancouver Sun – December 16, 2013)

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VICTORIA – A remote area of northwest British Columbia considered sacred by aboriginals and resource rich by mining companies has received a reprieve from potential coal-mining activities with a government order that puts new coal tenures on hold for one year.

The Tahltan Nation call the area Klappan, and it has been the site of protests by aboriginal elders who say mining will threaten the spiritual, cultural and wilderness values of the region, which includes the confluence of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine rivers.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said Monday the Klappan Coal Licence Deferral Area Order is a temporary measure that will allow the government, the Tahltan and the mining industry time to negotiate a management agreement for the area.

The deferral order impacts 62 coal licence applications, but existing area coal tenures and authorizations, including the Fortune Minerals’ Arctos project, are not impacted, he said.

Fortune Minerals, of London, Ont., announced last fall that it was pausing exploratory work for an open-pit coal mine in the Klappan, following an earlier decision by Shell Canada to give up its rights to explore and drill for coal-bed methane gas.

“We bought ourselves a year where we can have, I hope, some in-depth discussions with the Tahltan about what they think is necessary,” Bennett said. “They don’t want mining in the Klappan, that’s their position. So we’re going to have to spend some time and some effort this year and determine whether that’s something that can’t change, won’t change, in which case we’re going to have to come up with some kind of solution.”

Tahltan central council president Annita McPhee said the deferral order provides more time for the Tahltan to convince the government and industry that the area must remain pristine.

Rugged mountains border the vast alpine valley where the three rivers cut meandering paths through the high-altitude marshland as they become sheer forces of nature that include canyons, rapids and critical salmon habitat.

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