The province is accepting comments until today on a proposal for the Murray River coal river mine that HD Mining wants to build near Tumbler Ridge.
The proposal has come under fire from union leaders over its reliance on temporary foreign workers (TFWs).
HD Mining wants to build a coal mine 12 kilometres southwest of Tumbler Ridge. This mine would gather coal used to create metals like steel. A 2013 estimate by the company put its capital cost at $300 million.
Before this can be done, the project must receive environmental approval from the province. HD Mining has submitted an environmental impact statement as part of that process.
Blair Lekstrom, an adviser to HD, has said that the company feels “very good” to have the project reach this stage.
According to him, feedback from Tumbler Ridge residents has been “extremely positive.”
“The reality is if you look at the TFW (program) and you wanted to point at a company that has done everything right and to (set) an example for everyone, it would be HD Mining.” Under HD Mining’s proposed plan, temporary foreign workers will be used to do underground longwall mining. This is a type of mining where a "shearer" machine shaves off a long underground wall to get to the coal within.
“Unions and the McLeod Lake Indian Band express a concern that the importation of temporary foreign workers would restrict the availability of jobs for British Columbians and other Canadians,” their environmental impact statementsaid.
It also expressed concerns about “ethnic tensions” becoming an issue if certain groups are favoured for hiring.
However, other parts of the EIS go on to say that “the Tumbler Ridge community has demonstrated a welcoming attitude toward the TFWs, and the TFWs (who have already arrived) have participated in community events and in activities at the local recreation centre.”
Their plan shows that for the first year of operation, about 61 per cent of the workforce will be temporary foreign workers.
In year six, that number will drop to 30 per cent, going to zero by the year eleven, their strategy states.
Lekstrom estimated that its first phase would go for 25 years, and could possibly last longer.
The ratio of temporary foreign workers during construction was not included in the documents. The people employed for that part of the process would range from 420 to 660 people.)
Lekstrom said that the company’s “first priority” is to put local Canadians to work.
“We’re being realistic and somewhat cautionary over the term 10 years,” he said. “If we could do it in two years, we would.”
According to him, there is a “misconception” that temporary foreign workers cost less.
“They cost more,” he said. “We pay their transportation, we pay their benefits, we pay them wages that are comparable if not a little above the going rate here.”
Lekstrom also said that while 48 workers are employed to take samples of the coal for further use, hundreds of local Canadians are employed in other aspects of the project.
The previous mayor of Tumbler Ridge, Darwin Wren, expressed support for the project. However, the current mayor, Don McPherson, has expressed concerns.
He was quoted in the Tumbler Ridge News as saying that having HD wait until they have a mine before they start to train people as “ridiculous.”
“(In two years) you are going to have the same problems,” he was quoted as saying. “There will be no trained Canadians. In two years you’re going to say we’re going to bring over a bunch more foreign workers.”