VANCOUVER - A Canadian mining company is moving to diffuse a growing dispute with First Nations over a proposed open pit coal mine in northern B.C., by pulling out of the mine site for several months.
However, Fortune Minerals (TSX:FT) said it is not leaving Mount Klappan for good, and that the company remains committed to the mine in an area considered sacred by First Nations.
"While all of Fortune's activities at the project site are focused on gathering necessary information that will be used in a B.C. environmental assessment process, ... the company has faced disruptive and damaging protests," the firm said in a statement.
On Sunday, about 40 members of the Tahltan First Nation, including elders, moved into the Fortune's camp site at Mount Klappan and asked the workers to leave.
Tahltan members had earlier issued what they called an "eviction notice, requiring the company to halt its exploration activities and leave the area," said a news release issued by the Tahltan Central Council on Tuesday.
Fortune is proposing an open pit coal mine for the site that First Nations call the Sacred Headwaters, an area aboriginals say is of significant cultural value and feeds three major salmon-bearing rivers: the Skeena, the Stikine and the Nass rivers.
Over the weekend, B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett travelled to the remote site, located several hundred kilometres north of Terrace in northeast B.C.
Bennett told protesters he would urge Fortune Minerals not to seek an injunction against them.
He also apologized for the wording of a B.C. government news release issued last week which angered the Tahltan, who said it implied a newly-appointed mediator had no choice but to ensure the mine is built, even though aboriginals want protection of the area.
Fortune president and CEO Robin Goad said the company pulled out to give time and space needed for discussions, but Fortune is still fully committed to move forward on the project.
"It is our sincere hope that this show of good faith by Fortune will help bring resolution to issues as and near our Arctos project site, including any protests," Goad said.
Annita McPhee, Tahltan Central Council president, said they have made it clear that they don't want the mine in that area.
"We don't want another 2005," she said in a news release.
"Our people are getting angrier by the day and negotiations are not progressing as the same pace."
In 2005, 15 people were arrested in a protest against the Shell Canada Ltd. (TSX:SHC) shale gas development in the same area.
The B.C. government announced a deal last December with Shell Canada that saw the company withdraw plans to explore and drill for coalbed methane gas in the 4,000-square-kilometre region. (The Canadian Press, CFTK)
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