VICTORIA – The British Columbia government has granted conditional approval for the Mount Polley mine to reopen immediately, but its long-term operation depends on how water is treated and discharged.
Mines Minister Bill Bennett said Thursday the initial permit outlines the first of three steps the mine must take before it can be authorized to operate fully.
The tailings dam at the central B.C. mine breached last August, and 24 million cubic metres of mine waste and water gushed into area lakes and waterways in what was considered an environmental disaster.
An independent government-ordered report concluded the spill was caused by poor dam design, which didn’t account for drainage and erosion failures associated with glacial till beneath the pond.
Bennett said the current permit will be welcome news to out-of-work miners and their families in the communities of Likely, 100 Mile House and Williams Lake, but future operations hinge on the company proving it can meet conditions of the Mines Act and the Environmental Management Act.
“The permit does not include the right to discharge water off the site,” he said.
Bennett said the Imperial Metals Corp. (TSX:III) mine must now put their tailings and water into a pit called Springer pit.
He described it as an empty quarry that should be able to hold the mine’s tailings until next fall when the company must apply for its second conditional permit, to treat and discharge water.
Bennett said the mine must receive that permit in order to continue operating.
The final permit application, which must be submitted to the government by June 30, 2016, involves the mine’s long-term plans for water treatment and discharge, Bennett said.
“We need to see the plan that shows us that they can discharge water safely, responsibly from the site,” he said. “They would not be given a permit to discharge any water from the site unless the water meets drinking-quality guideline standards and also the aquatic organism protection standards.”
Imperial Metals Corp. estimates it will take about a month before it can start production, with up to 220 workers on site.
Company vice-president Steve Robertson said he expects Mount Polley Mine Corp. to immediately recall up to 30 workers.
He said the conditional permit fits the company’s intention to have Mount Polley operating permanently within a year.
“The strategy here is to be able to do this temporary work plan in order to give us the time to get in place a long-term water management plan and discharge plan,” Robertson said. “We expect to be able to go back to the government in the fall with a proposal for a full-time restart of the mine.”