Less than a year after the Mount Polley tailings pond collapsed, spilling toxic waste water in central B.C. waterways, the mine could reopen as early as July, says B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett.
"The public, I'm sure, assumes that politicians make these decisions and we often don't," said Bennett. "I'm advised by the statutory decision makers in this case that the information from the company is there. Its being assessed. It's probable Mount Polley will get a permit to open in the next couple of weeks."
Last August, a wall of the Mount Polley tailings pond broke and spilled 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of sand laden with toxic arsenic, nickel and lead into B.C.'s waterways.
Design problem caused breach last year
An independent panel of experts, which formed The Mount Polley Independent Expert Engineering Investigation and Review Panel, found the breach was caused by a design problem that failed to take into consideration the ground upon which the tailings facility was built.
The panel put forward seven recommendations "to ensure that a similar failure does not occur at other mine sites in B.C."
New Code Review Committee launched
Last week, the Ministry of Energy and Mines announced a new Code Review Committee will work to implement those recommendations.
The committee will be chaired by the Chief Inspector of Mines and made up of First Nations, labour unions and mining industry representatives.
The public will have the opportunity to submit written comments to the Code Review Committee on how best to implement the Mount Polley report recommendations between July 15 to Sept. 15, 2015.
"A lot of what this mining code review committee is going to be doing is looking at best available technology, what are the options and how can we ensure that when companies come to the government and say, 'We want to build a mine. Here's our plan,' how can we ensure that they have examined fully all of the alternatives to the water based tailings storage?" said Bennett.
More than 100 tailings ponds in B.C.
For now, water-based tailings storage facilities aren't going anywhere. Currently, there are well over a hundred tailings ponds in B.C., he says.
In addition to considering reopening the Mount Polley mine this summer, the province already granted a full operating permit to another mine owned and operated by the same company, Imperial Metals.
The larger gold and copper Red Chris mine in northwestern B.C., will also rely on tailings pond technology to store its waste.
Meanwhile, there is still a second investigation ongoing into the cause of the Mount Polley tailings pond breach being led by British Columbia's Conservation Officer Service and assisted by Environment Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the RCMP.
To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled Bill Bennett