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Open houses set on Rossland magnesium project

A Calgary mining company is holding a pair of open houses in Rossland this week in hopes of dispelling what it says are “misconceptions and propaganda” regarding its plans for a magnesium quarry close to town. But critics of the project say the company lacks credibility and accuse it of “greenwashing.”

West High Yield Resources has applied to remove up to 250,000 tons per year from the Record Ridge site about 10 kilometres southwest of Rossland for the first two years. While the proposal has been long been in the works, the company expects a final decision on its permit as early as August. If approved, it would operate six months per year.

President Frank Marasco and project advisor Fouad Kamaleddine said Tuesday the claim is mostly magnesium and silica with small amounts of iron and nickel. Ore would be trucked to Trail, then sent to Vancouver and elsewhere for processing.

Marasco said he has been working on the project off and on for more than 19 years. He originally explored the property as a gold prospect before stumbling across magnesium in 2007, but things progressed slowly because of the global financial crisis and later the COVID pandemic.

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Even without those hiccups, he said it still would have taken a dozen years to reach the point they are now at. “It’s not an easy task,” he said. “It’s very arduous. You have to have a lot of patience. And funding, because people get tired of it.”

However, he said he never gave up because he believes the project can play a role in BC’s decarbonization. Magnesium has been touted as a substitute for lithium in electric vehicle batteries.

“This is the one you have to embrace,” he said. “I know there are going to be environmentalists. Well, we are environmentalists. We have to make the world a better place, all of us together as the community and miners. This project will help the world turn green and get off fossil fuels.”

Marasco said for the first two years they would just sell ore. Afterward, they would require an amended permit to continue operating in the long term. They are considering building a processing plant in either Trail or Washington state.

Kamaleddine said one concern that has been raised is asbestos dust, but a study they commissioned found the average asbestos content in the ore is 0.0001 per cent. “Three zeroes. Based on their report, it’s negligible and should not be a concern,” he said.

They have also heard concerns about the traffic that would be created. Another consulting firm reported that six trucks would be able to handle all the shipping to Trail, increasing traffic on that corridor by 3.8 per cent.

Marasco said they have received “lots of positive and negative feedback.”

“We just want to set the record straight, because there are big misconceptions and a lot of propaganda going around what this is going to be. This is a rock quarry. Normal mines are between three and 10 million tons a year. We’re 250,000 tons a year.”

However, the company’s reassurances ring hollow with Mélanie Mercier, a local horticulturalist and ecologist who previously worked as a geologist in the mining industry.

“It’s very concerning and alarming because the information to back these statements the company is making is not available,” she said. “That brings me to believe the information they’re putting out there is not relevant and is not accurate.”

Mercier said she is concerned about the effect the operation would have on grasslands, ecosystems, and waterways in the area, adding no amount of reclamation work will ever restore it to its original state.

She is also doubtful of the company’s statements around asbestos: “A minimal amount of asbestos is still a concern and I have a hard time believing they have enough information to support that asbestos will have no impact.”

Mercier said there is no such thing as a mining operation with net zero carbon emissions, and this project would contribute to increased emissions, despite its stated intent to help achieve decarbonization. She said the company’s website emphasizes it will minimize its environmental impact doesn’t provide details of how it would reach those goals.

Further, she said research to date has yet to prove that magnesium is a greener resource for making electric car batteries.

While BC may have better mining practices than other countries, she said the industry still has a long way to go, and citizens should not simply put their faith in government to look after their health and safety.

She is bothered that the project falls below the production threshold that would trigger a full-blown environmental assessment.

“So with that in mind, when the company says it has the best interest of our environment, ecosystems, local communities and residents in mind, I don’t know if that’s true.”

Mercier said she is one of a group of residents advocating for the protection of Record Ridge, some of whom live nearby in Paterson and Big Sheep Creek. She feels the Ministry of Mines should deny the permit.

“There is no way to make this project go ahead without impacting and eliminating these concerns,” she said.

The first open house is tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. and the second tomorrow from 4 to 6 p.m. Both will be held at the Prestige Inn.

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