Morrison Lake mine project will not have access to new B.C. environmental assessment process

The recent changes made to B.C.’s environmental assessment process to improve transparency and efficiency for processing mining applications will not benefit Pacific Booker Mineras Inc.’s Morrison Lake proposal, the provincial environment minister said Wednesday.

George Heyman discussed the project’s status after the topic was broached in Wednesday’s question period during the current legislative sitting by former B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver. 

Heyman said that he cannot speak to the order made in 2015 by the previous Liberal government requiring the Morrison Lake proposal to undergo further assessments, but the recent changes to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Act for a different evaluation process will not be available to Pacific Booker as an option.

“Under the new legislation or the transition regulation, there is no ability to take a project like Morrison that has proceeded this far down the process and transfer it to the provisions of the new act,” Heyman said. “But it is my understanding that the company is working through the current required regulatory process for further assessment.”

Weaver, however, said Pacific Booker’s challenge is that the 2015 order was not clear on what information or assessment it needs to acquire in order to move the application process along - and the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office has not been helpful in helping the company identify the next step.

“They’ve conducted detailed assessment of Morrison Lake and its internal wildlife,” Weaver said. “They’ve pledged to use cutting-edge technology to reduce groundwater seepage from the tailing storage facility… Throughout the protracted environmental assessment process, Pacific Booker has stated its preference to use local suppliers and to hire local workers. At a time when the provincial economy is reeling due to the effects of COVID-19, the project would give the [Smithers] region a much needed economic boost.”

Heyman argued the 2015 order was specific in its requirements, and the latest filing by Pacific Book was made in December - so the process is ongoing.

“It is certainly not the intention of this government to make proponents guess at what is required,” Heyman said. “… When the application is complete and ready for reconsideration, it will be considered in a timely manner.”

Morrison Lake has been trying to get through the application process since 2002, but faced opposition from nearby Lake Babine Nation - whose chief warned at the time that his community’s support for the Pacific NorthWest LNG project could be jeopardized if the province approved the open-pit copper-gold mine.

The project’s massive delay in approval has been seen as raising serious questions about the province’s environmental review process rejecting an application based on non-environmental factors. The $512-million project would produce 30,000 tonnes of ore daily for 21 years.