A referendum conducted by shíshálh Nation has resulted in majority support for a proposed 50-year extension of operations by Lehigh Hanson Materials in Sechelt.
“For us it means two generations’ worth of economic surety,” shíshálh Nation Chief Warren Paull told Coast Reporter Monday, adding it provides stability, “not only for the Nation but for all those non-nation members who are currently employed up there.”
Those in support of the extension out-voted the opponents 141 to 20. Two ballots were rejected. Almost 40 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots.
Lehigh has been operating on shíshálh Nation band lands since 1988 and the site is one of Canada’s largest aggregate mining operations.
For now, the mine will continue operating status quo. Lehigh asked for an extension because their current mine plan takes them beyond 2030, according to Paull.
“There’s nothing contemplated that would be happening outside the current existing property in the next five to 10 years,” he said.
Last year, the Nation entered into a Foundation Agreement with the province, which included the transfer of fee simple title land near the current site, which could be mined in the future. A long-term mine plan is being revamped to include those additional properties.
If expansion into those other properties does take place, consultations with the Nation, the province, the District of Sechelt and the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) will likely take place.
“We want to be good neighbours and make sure we do the proper consultation processes that are agreed upon within the agreement that we have,” Paull said.
The Foundation Agreement would also ensure the Nation will be paid royalty fees that had previously been paid to the province. “We have assumed that vacuum,” said Paull, which means the Nation can move beyond its role as a service provider and pursue economic initiatives, including projects through tsain-ko Development Corporation.
“We now have a pot of funds we can draw on to begin projects and processes that we never had before, we can deliver on social service programs in a better way than we’ve been able to do before,” he said.
The extension also could have an impact on at least one water supply project under consideration at the SCRD. A feasibility study is underway for two potential engineered-lake sites east of the gravel mine.
Casual discussions had taken place about a nearby reservoir, said Paull, but a lack of certainty around the mine operations prevented further progress. “It’s one of the things I thought about, and I’m fairly confident [former Sechelt mayor] Bruce Milne talked to me about it, and I’m fairly confident all the previous regional board members wanted to have a discussion around it.
“Now that we have this arrangement, now those things are possible,” he said.
“Now we have right next door an operation that can not only take that material, utilize it, make something of it, but also leave you a finished product which could be exactly what you’re looking for,” he said in reference to a reservoir.