BC’s archaic mining laws have a real cost for BC communities, their environment and their economies. This blog post is the first in a series that highlights the stories of a wide variety of people and places in BC that have felt first-hand the negative impacts of our outdated, gold-rush era mining laws.
During the gold rush, as thousands of prospectors made their way to the west, early colonial legislation gave them a right of “free entry” to most lands in the colony, and established a system for them to acquire mineral rights by “staking a claim”. Over 150 years later, the presence of mineral claims, new or historical, still gives mining activity priority over virtually all other land uses in BC...
|BC’s free entry mining laws have allowed the strip-mining of the Bepple family farm near Kamloops.|
Under British Columbia’s free entry system, a validly staked claim automatically gives a variety of rights to the mineral claimholder, including (but not limited to) the right to enter onto the land and explore for minerals—even on land that is privately owned by another person.
The majority of landowners would likely be surprised to discover that the land which they thought was theirs can be stripped right out from under their feet, without their consultation or consent. The Bepple family learned this the hard way, when a parcel of land they once lived on, a 16-hectare farm woodlot 40 kilometres from Kamloops, was staked. The farm provided grazing land for their cattle and timber for selective logging, which they milled into lumber for use on the farm with a portable sawmill.
But in 1989 the Mineral Tenure Act was amended to include diatomaceous earth, the main ingredient in kitty litter, in the legal definition of “mineral”. Unbeknownst to the Bepples, as soon as the legal change came into effect a company called Western Industrial Clay Products acquired the subsurface rights to their property by “staking” it under the Mineral Tenure Act.
Under BC’s archaic laws, the Bepples could not stop the strip-mining of their property for kitty litter; the Mineral Tenure Act provides only that the landowner be compensated. In the Bepple’s case this involved a process that started in 1993 and finally ended in 2003. The Mediation and Arbitration Board concluded that the company’s right of free entry on the property took priority over their rights. Although the Bepples were paid $60,000 in compensation, they believe that the amount fell far short of the value they placed on the land that they loved.
According to the Bepples, this mine was considered a small producer and below the annual tonnage threshold which would have required an environmental assessment process to occur before any activity started. The right of free entry allowed entry, occupation and use of the Bepple land without any meaningful consultation regarding reclamation, without any detailed environmental baseline surveys in place before mining began, and without any environmental monitoring as the mining proceeds.
The right of free entry has no time limit, except when the mining is completed, nor is there a requirement for the company to minimize the length of time of the occupation. No one monitors the company’s activities on the Bepple land to ensure they comply with the terms of entry.
The company continues to slowly strip-mine the property and the Bepples are powerless to stop the destruction of their land, thanks to BC’s free entry mining laws. Despite their continued ownership of the land, the Bepples are indefi nitely excluded from entering, using, occupying or enjoying their property.
About their personal experience with BC’s free entry mining laws, Warren and Carolyn Bepple say: “You can only hope to live long enough to see your land returned and pray you’re not left with something equivalent to a contaminated site.”