Canadian Manufacturing

Mount Polley mine could restart “within months,” says operator

Environmental and aboriginal groups say they will oppose any restart of the site at the centre of last year's devastating tailings pond spill

Screen capture from a video showing a tailings pond breach in Northern B.C.

Screen capture from a video showing a tailings pond breach in Northern B.C.

VICTORIA, B.C.—The open-pit, gold-and-copper mine hit by a devastating tailings pond breach that caused an environmental disaster in central British Columbia could be operating safely and near full capacity within months, the company has announced.

Steve Robertson, vice-president of corporate affairs at Imperial Metals Corp. on April 30 said that about half Mount Polley’s 370 employees would be back at work if the Vancouver-based company is granted a permit to restart operations.

“If we get a permit approving the restart of the mine in June, it’s going to take a few weeks, but within a few weeks we would be able to be up and running,” he said. “What we’re proposing is a modified restart.”

Robertson said the startup phase would not be full speed.

He said 276 people were employed doing restoration in March, but those numbers are fluctuating.

Environmental and aboriginal groups say they will oppose any decision that allows Mount Polley, which was the site of a 24-million cubic metre spill of contaminated silt and water into nearby lakes and rivers last August, to resume operations.

“We don’t want it to reopen,” said Kanahus Manuel, a spokeswoman for the Williams Lake area Secwepemc Women Warriors Society.

“What I know for a fact is a small group of people can do a lot. We have these small pockets of people everywhere, and together we make up hundreds of thousands of people who are opposed to mining and destruction of our territory.”

The warriors’ society was part of protests at the Toronto Stock Exchange, B.C. government offices, the Canadian consulate in Los Angeles and Portland State University in Oregon.

“When it comes down to it we are talking about clean water,” said Manuel. “That tailings pond will be forever. That destruction that they did there and all those tailings they are not cleaning up will be there forever.”

B.C.’s Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said Imperial Metals must prove to a mine development technical review body Mount Polley can resume operations safely, on a temporary and permanent basis.

A 30-day public comment period on Mount Polley’s application to reopen ends May 2.

The review body includes representatives from government agencies, First Nations, local governments, the community of Likely, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada.

An independent, government-ordered report concluded earlier this year the construction of Mount Polley’s tailings pond on top of a sloped glacial lake weakened the foundation of the dam and was akin to loading a gun and then pulling the trigger.

It said the spill was caused by an inadequately designed dam that didn’t account for drainage and erosion failures associated with glacial till beneath the pond.

Bennett said he is deeply aware of the environmental, economic and social concerns associated with the mine-permit decision.

“There are a lot of families up there worried about their jobs,” he said. “You get pulled in both directions. I want to make sure it’s done absolutely flawlessly from a policy point of view. I also want to see those families working.”

Related Posts from the network