B.C. pulls end-run on Anthracite coal project (Updated)

The aftershocks of last year’s landmark Supreme Court of Canada Tsilhqo’tin decision are being felt on Mount Klappan 

Tahltan sign. This photo on www.sacredheadwaters.com makes it clear where the Tahltan stand on Fortune Minerals’ plans to build a coal mine on Mount Klappan

The aftershocks of last year’s landmark Supreme Court of Canada Tsilhqo’tin decision are being felt on Mount Klappan in the northwest corner of B.C., where the B.C. government is taking back coal licences from a company that planned to build the Arctos Anthracite coal mine.

B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett announced May 4 his government is taking back 61 coal licences held by Fortune Minerals Ltd. (TSX:FT) and a subsidiary of South Korea’s POSCO.

The B.C. government will pay the companies $18.3 million for the licences, with an option to buy them back within 10 years, provided the government and Tahltan First Nation can develop a “shared vision” for how mining should proceed in their territory.

“If there’s a successful resolution at the end of that, then we’ll be happy to repurchase the position and develop Arctos,” said Troy Nazarewicz, Fortune Mineral’s investor relations manager.

According to a ministry press release, Fortune Minerals was “moving more quickly than discussions with the Tahltan Nation, preventing progress from being made on a shared vision for the entire area.”

In August 2014, the Tsilhqot’in won a landmark case when the highest court in the land recognized aboriginal title to 1,750 square kilometers of Crown land southwest of Williams Lake.

Within hours of that decision, the Tahltan put the government on notice that it too planned to seek the court’s recognition of its own aboriginal title – a move aimed largely at stopping the Arctos Anthracite Coal project.

A few months earlier, in April 2014, the Tahltan issued a ban against Fortune from entering their territory without permission.

The open-pit metallurgical coal mine on Mount Klappan would be located in what the Tahltan call the Sacred Headwaters, where the Nass, Skeena and Stikine rivers originate.

"This is a fair solution that recognizes the investment made by the companies (and) secures the potential value of these assets for the future and respects the position of the Tahltan Nation," Bennett said in a press release.

Nazarewicz agreed the buyback was a reasonable solution to the impasse.

“Given the current situation and current state of the union with respect to the coal markets, it’s an appropriate solution,” he said.

Nazarewicz said his company and its predecessor companies have invested $110 million trying to develop the Arctos Anthracite mine over "a few decades." Fortune acquired the licences in 2002.

nbennett@biv.com