MAC: Mines and Communities

Mining Claims In South Skyrocketing

Published by MAC on 2007-07-20
Source: Telegraph-Journal

Mining claims in south skyrocketing

Prospecting: Soaring uranium prices have companies seeing opportunity, property owners seeing red

Daniel Martins, Telegraph-Journal

20th July 2007

The high price of uranium has prospectors madly staking claims across the province, causing unease in some New Brunswick communities.

Staking mining claims reached its zenith in New Brunswick in the 1950s, but mostly in the province's less-populated north. But with record numbers of claims in southern New Brunswick, there is increasing friction between residents and mining companies.

"Because there hasn't been a lot of activity in the south, it's very new to people and they don't quite understand what their rights are, and what the rights of the company are," Sam McEwan, director of minerals and petroleum development for the Department of Natural Resources, said this week.

Mining officials are astonished by the skyrocketing number of mining claims staked in New Brunswick. Attractive prices for the uranium, which have risen from Cdn$10 a pound to around $130 in recent years, is the reason for prospectors' interest.

In the last eight months, 12,000 new mining claims were registered with the Department of Natural Resources, which usually sees only around 3,000 over an entire year.

Les Fyffe, the department's director of geological surveys, says up to two-thirds of the new claims are for uranium, which can be refined into fuel for nuclear reactors.

It will be years before there is enough evidence to determine whether any mine will be sustainable. Nevertheless, the interest shown by prospectors is encouraging for provincial officials.

"It's a great thing for the economy of New Brunswick at this time to have this kind of activity going on," Fyffe said.

"There's positive spinoffs for the people who work in and supply labour and services to the mining industry."

But the news isn't sitting well with the village of Cambridge-Narrows, whose residents were angered when Newfoundland and Labrador company Triple Uranium began staking claims on their properties.

Under Canadian law, all natural resources beneath private property belong to the Crown, and the New Brunswick Mining Act, last amended in 1985, allows prospectors to stake claims on private land provided they notify the property's owners "as soon as possible." If the prospecting process requires damaging the land, the company must negotiate compensation with the owner.

But many Cambridge-Narrows denizens have complained that they have not been contacted by the company that staked their land. Fyffe says this is because prospectors prefer to move quickly to put down claims for fear of the competition.

He says the complaints are so numerous the department is mulling an electronic system that will allow prospectors to stake their claims with the department without having to tread on the land in question. Prospectors would still be responsible for notifying property owners.

Area resident Elmer Wiggins says he has heard nothing from Triple Uranium since they company staked his property in February. He is furious at the idea of prospectors being legally able to enter his property without having to tell him first.

"That's a violation of your civil rights, right there," he said.

"If they want to do mining, do it on Crown land, and not on private land."

Wiggins and about 100 other residents met with company representatives, department officials and politicians last week. Mayor Peter Knight says the community will push to amend the provincial mining act to ban mining in recreational areas such as tourism-oriented Cambridge-Narrows. They also want prospectors' responsibilities to property owners clarified.

Wiggins said representatives from Triple Uranium attended the meeting and tried to reassure residents, saying the claims did not guarantee that they would find uranium on the properties. He says they estimated that it could take up to five years before they would know for sure.

Liberal MLA Eugene McGinley, Grand Lake-Gagetown, attended the meeting, and said it appeared a resolution of the growing dispute would require amending the mining act. He said he was sympathetic to the residents' plight, but also appreciated the arguments of the government and the companies.

"The issue seems to be a conflict between the matter of economic growth or development of minerals on the one hand and, on the other, the expectations of land owners to be able to enjoy the recreation potential of their own property," said McGinley, who is also speaker of the house.

But Ellen Barry, assistant deputy minister in charge of policy and planning for minerals, was reluctant to say whether amending the mining act was on the agenda. She said that while she was sympathetic to residents' concerns, mining was too important to the province to be banned altogether from recreational areas.

"What is the definition of recreational land? It may very well be that most of New Brunswick may have to come out, and if that's the case, then we're shutting down a major economic opportunity for our province and our people," she argued.

She said it was far too early to predict whether the current explorations would lead to a full-scale mine.

But mine or not, David Plante, vice-president, New Brunswick, of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said the world's energy situation means prospectors won't be abandoning their search any time soon.

"I think over the longer term the fact that we're seeing oil prices shoot up to historic highs its creating this renewed interest in alternative energy sources and, of course, nuclear is one of them."

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