VICTORIA – The B.C. government has heard the protests and is re-thinking its plan to impose new fees on placer mining operations, Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett says.
In an interview to mark Mining Week in B.C., Bennett said he has heard the criticism from the mining industry about introducing permit fees under the Mines Act that could apply to all mining activities, including placer mines that search for gold and metal ores in the loose rock around rivers.
"I'm determined to make sure that we're not discouraging the junior level exploration with fees," Bennett said. "That's certainly my goal, that they wouldn't be charged any fees, but we're going to have to see where this settles out."
Placer mining has come a long way from its roots in the waves of gold fever that swept over the Fraser Canyon, the Cariboo and the Klondike in Yukon. Larger placer mines can expect to pay for licensing and regulatory costs of their industry, as forest and other industries do on Crown land, Bennett said.
When the fees were proposed in February, the industry response was swift and negative. NDP mines critic Scott Fraser said he was getting letters as soon as the legislation was presented, and small operators were the most worried.
"They'll get hit by this, and according to them, they'll be pushed right off their claims," Fraser said.
The larger picture of B.C. mining remains bright, Bennett said. Red Chris copper and gold mine is set to open this summer with the completion of a new electrical transmission line to northwestern B.C.
Copper Mountain near Princeton and Mount Milligan north of Prince George are up and producing metal ore, adding to mine activity that has tripled in terms of value to the economy since 2001.
Slumping prices for metallurgical coal have reversed some of the recent growth in coal production, with closures announced at two coal mines in the Tumbler Ridge region. Teck Resources has also delayed its plan to reopen Quintette Coal, which it opened as one of the first Tumbler Ridge mines in 1982 and closed in 2000 due to low coal prices.
Bennett said the metallurgical coal market is subject to cycles that are closely tied to Asian demand for steel, and the long-term trend continues to be strong. B.C. and Australia are the world's leading sources of high-grade metallurgical coal.