VANCOUVER – A British Columbia company behind a mine tailings spill has signed an agreement with a First Nation that will see an independent engineering firm review a tailings facility at a separate project.
The agreement between Imperial Metals Corp. (TSX:III) and the Tahltan Central Council ends a blockade of the company’s Red Chris gold and copper mine, where workers had been prevented from entering by a group of Tahltan elders for more than two weeks.
The tailings dam at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine in central B.C. failed earlier this month, releasing millions of cubic metres of waste water and silt into several lakes and rivers. The spill raised concerns about the potential impact on humans and the environment, placing the company and the entire mining industry under increased scrutiny.
Several days later, a group of Tahltan elders known as the Klabona Keepers established a blockade of the Red Chris site, which is located in northwestern B.C. and expected to open by the end of the year.
Imperial Metals issued a news released on Tuesday announcing that it would pay for an independent engineer, selected by the Tahltan Central Council, to review the tailings facility for the Red Chris mine and report back by Sept. 24.
The company has agreed to address any issues identified in the review “to the reasonable satisfaction” of the central council.
Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch acknowledged that the Mount Polley spill has affected the company’s entire operations.
“We’re having to work with our neighbours,” Kynoch said in an interview. “It (the Mount Polley spill) is having an effect on all tailings dams in British Columbia.”
There are several investigations into the Mount Polley spill, including a review by a panel of experts appointed by the provincial government.
The province has also ordered inspections of all tailings dams in B.C., including the one at the Red Chris mine, by December. The review with the Tahltan is in addition to that government-mandated inspection, Kynoch said.
The blockade was not endorsed by the council, but meetings over the weekend included the company, the central council and the Klabona Keepers.
Rhoda Quock, a spokeswoman for the Klabona Keepers, said the blockade ended Saturday night. She said she’s confident the review will answer the group’s questions and concerns.
“It’s a good agreement — if it wasn’t, the blockade would still be up,” she said in an interview.
“That’s what we want, our own independent review.”
The Tahltan Central Council has been negotiating a benefit agreement with Imperial Metals, and Kynoch said those negotiations are continuing.
Central council president Chad Day was not available for an interview Tuesday.
Day posted an open letter on the council’s website shortly after the spill, saying the Mount Polley spill raises “new questions and concerns” that Imperial Metals would need to address.