Warren Maclennan and his grandson Tyne Maclennan stand with the tractor and hay baler Maclennan drove to the protest held on July 10, 2006. Maclennan is a local farmer against proposed uranium exploration. (File photo)

VALLEY VOICES: Valley residents protest uranium exploration

In 2006, residents of the North Thompson Valley rallied against a proposed uranium mine near the Foghorn property. This wasn’t the first time the discussion of the mine came up, nor was it the first time it faced strong opposition. Geologist Jim Lewis and Dr. Bob Mackenzie both fought the development some 30 years prior. Over 300 people attended a public open house on the matter. It was a hot topic all throughout the summer of 2006.

By Laurel Smith

The following is an excerpt from the July 10, 2006, issue of the Times.

The message was clear Tuesday night at the Clearwater Ski Lodge: the uranium mine cannot be allowed. Over a hundred residents gathered at the meeting the Yellowhead Ecological Association conducted and the opposition to the mine was heard loud and clear.

The topic that came up time and time again was the danger of the extraction of the uranium ore to the health of the people who rely on the watershed of the Valley.

“It’s my opinion that this mining operation is too dangerous to continue,” said Jim Lewis, a geologist and mining engineer for over 40 years. Lewis was involved with the previous mining attempt of the uranium in the Foghorn property.

International Ranger Corp. proposes to drill 15 holes this summer, which will enlarge the water-filled holes already on the property by 500 feet wider. According to Lewis the water in the drill holes is contaminated with concentrated uranium and when the drills go down, the water will come up.

Lewis wasn’t the only person at the meeting who had fought the development of a uranium mine 27 years earlier. Dr. Bob Mackenzie had personally gone and looked at the site of the mine in 1979. Mackenzie said he was skeptical that IRC would have anyone’s interest but their own at heart…

It was decided at the meeting held at the lodge that the residents wouldn’t attend the (upcoming) open house, but instead gather at 1 p.m. outside the Clearwater Resource Centre and protest the mine. Picket signs are encouraged and a sign-making committee was formed at the meeting.

Bert Walker, director of TNRD, encouraged everyone to bring as many people with them as they could, including family, friends, neighbours and any contacts they might have. It was mentioned that Green Peace and David Suzuki would be contacted about coming to the rally. Walker also said the Simpcw First Nation’s Chief Keith Matthew would be at the rally to sow support of the band in opposing the uranium mine.

The following is an excerpt from the July 17, 2006, issue of the Times.

Clearwater residents, visitors from Barriere, Kelowna, Kamloops and other B.C. regions gathered outside the Clearwater Resource Centre July 10 to protest the proposed exploration of uranium deposits on the Foghorn property.

International Ranger Corporation held an open house at the centre to answer questions and concerns citizens of the valley had about the drilling and exploration that IRC has applied for a permit for from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.

Around 300 people gathered to protest the exploration, the possibility of a mine and uranium mining in general. Tents were pitched to keep off rain, and despite heavy downpour at times, the crowd remained strong outside the centre.

Many speakers came to give advice and words of encouragement to the protesters. Bert Walker, TNRD director spoke, as did MLA Kevin Krueger and Fred Fortier a councillor of the Simpcw band who announced that the band had passed a resolution to ban all exploration of uranium in their territory.

“We look forward to this fight with you,” said Fortier. “We look forward to this fight with the province and we look forward to this fight with the mining corporations.”

Ray Paquette, president of IRC said the company is only interested in exploration of the property and isn’t planning to open a mine. According to Paquette, if they did fund substantial amounts of uranium, they would resell the mineral claims to another larger company interested in opening a mine.

“We’re not here to build a mine, we’re here for exploration,” said Paquette.

Aside from Paquette, there was a geologist, two environmentalists and IRC employees present at the centre to explain what the company was hoping to do. Pamphlets were handed out at the door detailing who and what IRC is. The Vancouver company stated in it’s pamphlets that it ‘intends to expand the known mineralized zones and to establish new areas of mineralization on the property. The exploration focus is on non-radioactive mineralized targets.”

According to Paquette the company is focusing on the Molybdenum and Fluorite deposits, not uranium.

Geologist Jo Shearer of Homegold Resources Ltd., is working with IRC to evaluate the Foghorn property and study core samples from 1979 which were left on the site when Denison Mines Ltd. had drilled 27 years ago. Shearer was showing core samples to attendees and explaining that there is evidence of large fluorite deposit which would be worth exploring further.

Bruce Wright, of Nova Pacific Environmental Ltd. was answering questions regarding any environmental issues of the proposed drilling. Wright stated that an environmental impact study wasn’t needed to conduct the drilling and only a check into the background of the site would be required.

The rally continued until 8 p.m. when the open house ended. Members were encouraged to send letters to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources about their concerns and comments. Walker stated “a thousand letters from a thousand people is a different matter” rather than having one person speak for everyone.

In 1980, the B.C. Minister of Mines placed a seven-year moratorium on uranium mining and exploration in the province. Decades later, in 2008, the province places a ban on uranium and thorium exploration and extraction.