Mining Firms Deplore British Columbia Park Environmentalists Welcome Huge New Wilderness Preserve Next to Alaskan Panhandle for Hikers and Grizzlies

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THE score is grizzly bears one, mining industry zero.

The creation of a huge new wilderness park on the edge of the Pacific means that British Columbia's mining industry has lost a major battle with the environmental movement. The preserve, saved for grizzly bears, salmon, and backpackers, signals the end of a mining project that might have supplied 1 percent of the world's copper. "The government changed the rules of the game," charges George Miller, president of the Mining Association of Canada. "There was an environmental assessment under way for an entire mining operation, and all of a sudden the entire area is a park."

The park, Tatshenshini-Alsek, is in the northwestern corner of British Columbia, adjoining Alaska and the Yukon. It covers 2.5-million acres, twice the size of the Grand Canyon. It abuts parks in Alaska and the Yukon to create a 23-million acre wilderness area, said to be the largest in the world.

The mine at Windy Craggy, in the process of being developed by Geddes Resources of Vancouver, British Columbia, would have been an open pit mine producing copper and some gold, all shipped out on a two-lane road to a port at Haines, Alaska. The government of Alaska is unhappy about losing business from the proposed mine. "The loss of the enormous potential economic value of the Windy Craggy mines will impact those living on both sides of the border," says Alaska Gov. Wall Hickel.

The mining company has already spent $50 million (Canadian; US$39 million) developing the mine site and says it will seek damages from the British Columbia government. "We will be seeking compensation for several hundred million dollars at least," says Ronald Burns, vice president of Geddes Resources. He says compensation would be based on the value of the lost potential mining income.

The British Columbia government has taken the environmental high road. Provincial Premier Mike Harcourt says mining and the environment are not compatible. "This is one of the most spectacular wilderness areas in the world and today B.C. is living up to its global responsibility to keep it that way," Mr. Harcourt says. "This wasn't a decision about mining, this was about a unique and exciting opportunity for the people of the world. …

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