Will uranium mining ruin cottage country?

A primer on mining's history & its effects on our favourite getaways

By Peter GorriePeter Gorrie

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As the opposition has gained steam, the mining companies have lost some. While exploration goes on in the region (for instance, a new find in east Bancroft was announced in late February by Frontenac Ventures), this past winter, as uranium prices plummeted, the companies with claims in Haliburton put their plans on hold. “We’re waiting on better times,” says El Niño president Jean Luc Roy. Abitibi is focussing on gold exploration elsewhere and has no plans for these claims, according to Kevin Hull, in investor relations for the company, who adds, “I don’t know if those properties will ever be mined.” Bancroft Uranium didn’t respond to interview requests and has not updated its website since last October. Regardless of the breathing space, the sense of urgency hasn’t been lost. “The dragon is sleeping for the moment,” Young says, “but it could be reawakened at any time.”

Young, who built on Little Glamor Lake five years ago, started researching uranium mining in earnest when, in 2007, he first heard rumours about prospecting and exploring in the area and learned about Robin Simpson’s situation. They and other critics offer three main objections to mining. Their first issue is with the “free entry” right, which they view as an attack on their property rights. Second are the environmental, health, and economic impacts of mining in general, uranium in particular, whether on private or Crown land. Third is the limited ability of municipalities to control mining through their official plans.

Under free entry, prospectors have the right to stake claims.

And claim-holders may do exploration work unimpeded for as long as they maintain their claim, on Crown land or on most of the private properties whose owners don’t control the underground mineral rights. To show what exploration looks like, Simpson takes visitors to Crown land near his home. In early 2008, a Bancroft Uranium crew scraped to bedrock 20 hectares of forest; dug trenches 15 to 18 metres long, up to almost 10 metres deep, and about as wide; cut channels along surface rocks; and drilled for ore samples. The scars, plus uprooted trees, piles of earth and rock, and dozens of fluorescent pink ribbons, have effectively disfigured the land.

The Mining Act grants prospectors the legal right to do this, so Simpson couldn’t stop such activity on his land nor can he repair any damage, as long as the claim-holder maintains a permit. It’s too late for him, but others could, in theory, stake their own properties. They’d have to obtain a $25 prospector’s licence, follow detailed staking rules, and conduct at least $400 worth of work annually on each claim. While mining recorders at Ontario’s Ministry of Northern Development and Mines probably won’t ask outright whether a claim is intended to block mining, claim-holders have to do more than just look at the rocks at the surface; if they don’t undertake drill tests, they have to forfeit their claim.

Admittedly, free entry directly affects few people. Across southern Ontario, more than 98 per cent of property owners—virtually everyone in developed areas—control their mineral rights. Likely, those on relatively small cottage lots won’t find prospectors pounding stakes between deck and dock. Most claims are on Crown land. Still, the examples strike a deep, angry chord, says Paul MacInnes, who cottaged in Haliburton for 35 years, is now a permanent resident, and heads the Maple, Beech, and Cameron Lakes Area Property Owners’ Association. “As you start to hear more and more stories of property owners who arrive at their cottage to find it’s been staked and test holes drilled, you can see that they feel that their land has been violated.”

This article was originally published on May 14, 2009


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