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Spruce Lake Park decision pushed back

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More consultation planned with stakeholders

The size of the proposed Spruce Lake Provincial Park is still up in the air, as is the fate of other protected areas proposed in the Lillooet Land and Resource Plan, as the government continues to weight options for the area.

The LRMP that was approved by the NDP government in their last cabinet session in April of 2001 was reopened last fall by the Liberal government after resource interests in the area complained that an economic impact study hadn’t been completed for the area. They argued that the creation of new parks and special management zones would cost local resource-based communities jobs by reducing timber harvesting and mining opportunities.

Stan Hagen, the Minister of Sustainable Resource Management, has since met with stakeholders in the area an attempt to create a more balanced plan. A second draft of the reworked plan was released on March 11, and the government hoped to pass the plan with final input by May. The date was pushed back to June, and then again to July. The latest news is that is going to be at least a couple more months.

"Minister Hagen has held a couple of meetings with stakeholders and decided there were still some outstanding issues in the LRMP, like First Nations consultation and especially the New Era commitment on working forests," said Barb Wright, a spokesperson for the ministry. On May 1, the government adopted a new Forest Code that will focus on positive results rather than regulations, with heavy penalties for environmental offenders.

"Those issues need to be addressed before we can move on. Over the next few months ministry staff will be working on those outstanding issues," said Wright. "Everybody knows this is really important to many different interests and (Hagen) is taking it very seriously. He wants a balanced and informed plan to go to cabinet."

One of the stakeholder groups that has waded into the fray only recently is the mining industry, which is suggesting that the 72,000 hectare park proposed for the Southern Chilcotin Mountains and Spruce Lake area be reduced to 3,000 hectares for esthetic reasons. This would allow mining within three kilometres of Spruce Lake.

At a meeting of the Vancouver Sun’s editorial board on June 26, Mining Association of B.C. President Gary Livingstone said there were high mineral values in the area, and that investors would be following the Liberal decision closely because of the previous government’s anti-mining policies.

"The Lillooet decision will be the first LRMP decision that the Liberal government will be making," said Livingstone. "It seems to me the government has to take a heavier role in this than it has over the past 10 years and this is what we’re hoping the new government does."

The Liberals promised to show the world knew that B.C. was open for business, and mining industry challenged the government to put its money where its mouth is.

In late June Livingstone sent letters to business men and women who supported of the South Chilcotin Mountains Park in an attempt to win converts to support the mining plan.

The Southern Chilcotin Mountains Wilderness Society and CPAWS responded on July 2 with a letter to Premier Gordon Campbell that suggested that mining was deliberately exaggerating their interest in the park to test the waters.

According to their letter, the mining industry initially withdrew from the LRMP round table, preferring to lobby the government directory. The government then hired a representative from the industry to sit at the table, and that representative agreed to an option that would have seen the creation of a 42,000 hectare park around Spruce Lake.

The provincial governments own Socio-Economic and Environmental Assessment of the park, released last September, found that the Spruce Lake area only represented 2.5 per cent of all of the land within the LRMP area identified as having high or very high mineral value. Even so, there are currently no active mines within the entire Lillooet LRMP area.

According to Wright, the mining interests in the area are currently being looked at along with First Nations land claims and changes to the forest code.

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