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Mining becomes election issue

A mining claims rush on the Sechelt Peninsula has become an election issue in this riding. The Green and NDP candidates both were on the attack this week, criticizing the Liberal government for a new online claim-staking system.

A mining claims rush on the Sechelt Peninsula has become an election issue in this riding. The Green and NDP candidates both were on the attack this week, criticizing the Liberal government for a new online claim-staking system.

Adriane Carr, leader of the B.C. Green Party, is holding a public information meeting on the issue at 6 p.m. May 9 in the Coopers Green Park community hall in Halfmoon Bay - a location which, she points out, is 200 metres from Premier Gordon Campbell's summer home. Campbell's house, like about 2,500 other private homes on the Sechelt Peninsula, has been staked for minerals by the company Pan Pacific Aggregates using the new online system.

Carr said if she were elected, she would introduce a private members' bill to protect B.C. property owners from hostile mining company development.

"This mining plan, introduced by the Liberals without consulting those people most affected by it, has fostered the largest hostile takeover of property in B.C. history," said Carr in a press release. "The negative impacts on property values and tourism businesses are widespread, as is the stress on individual property owners and First Nations who are just learning about this."

NDP candidate Nicholas Simons said his office has been flooded with calls from Sunshine Coast residents alarmed at the new system of registering subsurface mining claims.

"People are telling me they're tearing up their Liberal membership cards because of the way the new registration system has been introduced," Simons said in a press release. "They feel helpless, abandoned and without any recourse to action."

Simons said if mining companies can claim subsurface rights to private property by email, there is no excuse for the provincial government not to notify affected homeowners first.

"The Sunshine Coast is not the Wild West - the Gold Rush days are long behind us," said Simons. "The people phoning me have been saying they would be happy to pay 40 cents a hectare for the mineral rights to their home, not the big mining companies who do it online from some faraway office."

Maureen Clayton, the Liberal candidate, said mining companies have always had the right to stake subsurface mineral claims to private property in B.C. "I know it sounds difficult, but people do not own mineral rights under their property. It sounds harsh, but that's been the law for more than 100 years," she said. "What's different [now] is people are able to file claims online. It's the modern age," said Clayton. Clayton said the subsurface mineral claims being staked online would not allow gravel mining, and mining companies would have to pay compensation to affected property owners. She said she would not support any mining proposal that was opposed by local governments.

"We don't need another scarred-up landscape. I think the community can stop these things," she said. "We're still controlled by the Mines Act They have to meet the most stringent environmental standards."

The B.C government introduced the new online system in early January, and there was an immediate flood of claims from companies eager to take advantage of the convenience of staking claims online rather than sending prospectors to potential mine sites to physically stake a claim.

By mid-January, virtually the entire Sechelt Peninsula had been claimed by Pan Pacific and other companies. Other large claims this year are on Texada Island, Vancouver Island, Burnaby, Coquitlam and Fort St. James.

There was no immediate public reaction, as most people were unaware of the claims rush. But last month, residents in the newly claimed areas began voicing their concern.

John Rees, the Sunshine Coast Regional District director for Pender Harbour, said the SCRD is studying the implications of changes to mining regulations. In the meantime, he said, people are taking a "wait and see" attitude as there's no definite information about how this flood of online claims might affect his constituents.

Rees said while underground mining operations might be acceptable, there would be great concern if mines threatened to affect any of the ten watersheds that provide drinking water for his area. If mining were permitted in those areas, he said, "All hell would break loose."

"It's almost unbelievable that could actually happen. It's so easy to stake claims," he said.

John Marian, director for Halfmoon Bay, said he has had more calls from constituents on this issue than on any other except the watershed.

"People are afraid," he said. "The scenario that leaps to mind, with this unfettered laying of claims, is that places we value could be pretty much torn up."

People also fear they might be forced from their houses and have to bargain for compensation afterwards, said Marian.

"I think people feel offended that these changes could be made without the slightest public awareness prior to their being made," said Marian. "While other jurisdictions are moving to place more restrictions on what the mining industries can do, B.C. seems to be alone in moving in the other direction."