“There’s gold on them thar islands!” or so it seems. With the recent news of mining claims covering much of the privately owned rural and agricultural land on North and South Pender, “not in my back yard” has taken on new meaning. Property owners have been consulting with legal counsel, elected officials, neighbours and government websites to try to make sense of it all. Both the Islands Trust and CRD are conferring with the Ministry of Energy and Mines. It appears that land with a building, the area around a house, orchards, cultivated land, heritage land and parks are not included, but that still leaves large rural areas open to exploration. It surprises many residents who thought mining of this nature was not allowed in the Gulf Islands, especially since such activity is counter to the “preserve and protect” mandate of the Islands Trust.
According to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, claim staking with Mineral Titles Online, established in 2005, has been a game changer. Creating an easy to use online system was intended to streamline the process, which it certainly did. Mining claims in BC increased substantially as a result. But there were unintended consequences. “Online staking now allows claims to be acquired without ever setting foot on the land. MTO has significantly reduced the cost of acquiring a claim, and, as a result, has allowed some claims to be registered by persons who have no intention of ever conducting any mining activity on the land.”
Although a property owner’s initial reaction is to prohibit entry of someone with a free miner’s certificate and claim to the subsurface mineral rights, the provincial mining laws trump any local laws or private property owner’s rights. In most cases the province owns the minerals under the surface, so even if you own the land they own everything under your land. Property owners should be aware of the Mining Tenure Act regulations, which require proper notice to be given and compensation paid to the surface rights property owner. This can be as simple as an agreement with the miner, or as complicated as a hearing with the Gold Commissioner or a surface rights arbitration board.
In the far north corner of the province, the regional government has helped arrange for a Farmers Advocacy Office to help landowners through the complicated process with a compensation arrangement that is as transparent and fair as possible. The FAO keeps a map and database clearly showing the terms of other surface rights agreements to help farmers with their own negotiations. In the case of the grain and forage growing Peace River area the subsurface resource being extracted is oil and gas, but the principle is the same.
All of this harkens back to the gold rush days of the 1800’s. The earliest regulation of mining in BC came with the Gold Fields Proclamation of 1859, with the appointment of two gold commissioners for the Colony of British Columbia. The original Gold Fields “Act” was to promote land settlement at a time when the province was sparsely populated and mines were smaller. The establishment of a Gold Commissioner was to serve as the law in what was a lawless frontier. It speaks volumes that we still have need of a Gold Commissioner today, and that we allow our province to continually tweak an antiquated law that clearly needs an overhaul and an updating into the 21st century.
The mining industry in BC is very strong and important to the BC economy. This fact is certainly not lost on our lawmakers. Perhaps a complete review is in order, and should include the importance that mineral and metal recycling may have on the environment and our economy. It is known that recycling has the advantage of energy savings and reduced pollution, in addition to the sparing effect on our environment from reduced mineral exploration. New tools and research in mining exploration can also reduce the damage to the surface and water resources and provide a targeted approach to mining, instead of a shotgun approach of yesteryear when land was seen as an unlimited resource and miners with no experience or training could stake claims over large expanses of land.