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VICTORIA and VANCOUVER — The B.C. government has devised a unique solution to head off conflict between a First Nations community and the developers of a proposed a coal mine, using its Crown corporation BC Rail to buy and hold coal licences during talks with the Tahltan Nation on managing the resource.
The province is paying $18.3-million to buy 61 licences from Fortune Minerals Ltd. and POSCO Canada Ltd. in a region dubbed the Sacred Headwaters in northwest British Columbia. The area is important to the Tahltan Nation because the headwaters of three important salmon rivers – the Stikine, Skeena and Nass – are there.
The companies will be able to buy back the assets at their original price if they reach an agreement with the Tahltan in the next 10 years.
Anthracite coal deposits that the companies want to mine are in an area within the Sacred Headwaters called the Klappan, which has been identified as having significant cultural significance to the First Nations community.
The situation has raised tensions between First Nations and developers. In recent years, First Nations critics of the coal proposal have blocked Fortune Minerals from proceeding with work on the deposits.
Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said the Tahltan Nation now have a veto over development of those 61 coal licences, which he described as a “beautiful” solution to an otherwise inevitable conflict.
Speaking to reporters at the legislature in Victoria, Mr. Bennett said he has been involved in the file for a decade and had originally been working toward finding a way to get the coal out of the ground. However, he said it became apparent to him that this one potential coal mine would come at too high a price and was getting in the way of other rich developments in the Tahltan’s traditional territories.
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