Dear Editor:

As Minister responsible for both mining and BC Hydro, I have been working very closely with Hi Test Sand, the company looking at developing a high grade silica deposit between Golden and Radium. My ministry is responsible for permitting the mine, along with the Ministry of Environment. Permits to construct and operate a mine are only granted after rigorous analysis by both ministries. Given the proximity of the Columbia Wetlands to the mine site, it is essential that the public is aware that there will be no impact on the wetlands.

The project is divided into two parts: the mine and the processing of the silica. The processing requires huge amounts of electricity and in this case will require considerable expensive electrical infrastructure to deliver the reliable quantity of electricity required. Although BC Hydro rates are some of the lowest in North America (residential rates are third lowest), there are areas of the U.S., such as Washington State, where governments are subsidizing electricity rates and infrastructure costs. That has made the choice of a processing site difficult for Hi Test. This is a Canadian company that would prefer to operate 100 per cent in Canada, but they are a business and must make business decisions.

I got involved over a year ago in trying to assist Hi Test find a way to choose B.C., our own East Kootenay, as its processing site. There are dozens of well-paying jobs that come with the processing. We are fortunate in B.C. that our electricity is delivered by a public utility that is legally obliged to treat all rate payers even-handedly. We cant have one ratepayer group subsidizing another group or a private business. However, we are looking at innovative ways to construct the necessary electrical infrastructure and enable this company to locate their whole operation in our region. The majority in our region recognizes that we need the good jobs and that our small businesses need the economic spin-offs that come from mining.

MLA Norm MacDonald has not communicated with my office at any time about the Hi Test project, even though I head the ministry most involved. Mayor Oszust and Area Director Karen Cathcart, on the other hand, along with Doug Clovechok, have been working with me regularly to do everything possible to have this new job-creating business put roots down in the Columbia Valley. We are all doing our best to help the company make the decision wanted by the majority of residents.

Bill Bennett

B.C. Minister of Energy and Mines