Is it any wonder some people still consider British Columbia a colony populated by hewers of wood and drawers of water? Sure, there are all kinds of high-tech industries in B.C. and an economy that is becoming more diverse through international trade, tourism and immigration, but the economic culture of the province is still riddled by old fossils like the Mines Act. A holdover from the days of Billy Barker, the Mines Act essentially gives a mining claim precedence over all other interests in a piece of land; the only reason for denying a mining application is safety concerns. Whistler discovered this a couple of years ago when Appia Developments applied to establish a gravel operation in the Cougar Mountain area. The municipality is now re-discovering it with an application to remove basalt rock from the Whistler Interpretive Forest. A private contractor may be allowed to remove parts of a key geographic feature in the interpretive forest, the ancient volcanic cone that forms part of Loggers Lake. The contractor still requires permission from the Forest Ministry to haul material over its road, so the application could be held up on a technical issue. But the fact that the province, through the Forest Ministry, has invested more than $1.5 million of public money and nine years of effort to develop the interpretive forest as a recreational and tourist area doesn’t seem to count for anything. The Mines Act takes precedence. The exact words are: "Land use concerns are not addressed in the Mines Act permitting process and must be clarified by the local government rather than by the Ministry of Employment and Investment." What exactly "clarified" means is unclear, but in this case the local government wasn’t even apprised by the Mines Branch of the application; it heard about it from other sources. The explanation given municipal officials, when they tracked down a representative in the Mines Branch, was the application was for an area outside the municipal boundaries. That is the case, but many other issues outside the municipal boundaries, such as forestry cutblocks and backcountry tenures, are routinely referred by government ministries or departments to the municipality for comment. It only makes sense. This is public land, which is to be used in the best interest of British Columbians. Who determines what that use is and how that decision is arrived at are complex and often controversial issues. Rarely is a consensus achieved. But that doesn’t mean the matter should be decided by a civil servant whose authority to rubber stamp applications is granted by an outdated Act.

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