Mining company using temporary foreign workers invests millions in B.C. housing

TUMBLER RIDGE, B.C. – The mining company at the centre of concerns over the use of temporary foreign workers in British Columbia says it is doing more to invest in a community where its minority partner pulled out of an area project just a day earlier.

HD Mining said Sunday it held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the weekend to celebrate its more than $15 million investment in housing in Tumbler Ridge, which will be used by workers at its nearby Murray River coal mine.

“HD Mining is committed to the community of Tumbler Ridge,” company chairman Penggui Yan said in a release. “We are honoured and humbled by the warm welcome we have received from the community.”

On Saturday, a company that has a minor stake in the Murray River mine — Canadian Dehua International Mines Group —announced it has decided to wind down work at its Wapiti River coal project, located southeast of Tumbler Ridge.

The Dehua mine, located 45 kilometres southeast of Tumbler Ridge, had been in the exploration phase. Construction was expected to be finished by 2014, according to a B.C. government website. The shut-down was to become effective Sunday at midnight.

Dehua said it will discuss the closure decision more on Monday, but has explained its investors are reluctant to continue their support during a legal challenge related to the Murray River project.

Two unions are pursuing a judicial review of the federal government’s decision to grant HD Mining temporary foreign worker permits for 201 miners from China. HD Mining, however, has defended its move and has filed an appeal of the Federal Court ruling that granted the unions the review.

The case has also prompted a federal government review of the entire temporary foreign worker program.

Two photos on HD Mining’s website show officials shaking hands and also snipping a long red ribbon encircling a small, newly-built home nestled amongst snow and construction equipment in Tumbler Ridge.

Mayor Darwin Wren said the investment is the largest single-residential development in the community’s history.

“House projects like this are a great way to get our local economy moving,” he said in the release. “It puts local construction workers and trades people to work quickly, while having many other positive spin-off effects in the region.”

Wren told The Canadian Press in an interview Saturday that while he’s disappointed about Dehua’s closure, he remains optimistic about the Murray River project.

An open house was attended by more than 50 people following the ceremony marking HD Mining’s housing investment. Yan said he heard many positive statements about the company’s project, and a member of a local seniors’ group dropped off hand-knitted scarves and hats for the workers.

The company anticipates the project will have a production life of 30 years or more, said spokeswoman Jody Shimkus. She said the housing investment is part of the company’s initial phase of creating jobs and increasing commerce in the community.

HD Mining also signed an agreement last week with Northern Lights College to work together to train Canadian workers to staff its long wall underground mining operations, which the company says is the first of its kind in Canada.

The company says its transition plan includes eventually having Canadians do the work.

Tumbler Ridge is a town of about 2,700 that was incorporated in 1981 to support nearby coal mines.

— By Tamsyn Burgmann in Vancouver