British Columbia

Mayor calls Mount Polley permit early Christmas present for Cariboo miners

The British Columbia government has approved a permit allowing water discharge from a mine that was the centre of an environmental disaster, and the decision has drawn cheers from the area's mayor.

Permit will allow mine to start round-the-clock operations this winter

The tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine burst without warning in August, 2014, spilling 24 million cubic metres of silt and water into nearby lakes and rivers (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The British Columbia government has approved a permit allowing water discharge from a mine that was the centre of an environmental disaster, and the decision has drawn cheers from the area's mayor.

Williams Lake mayor Walt Cobb said the permit approved Monday for central B.C.'s Mount Polley mine means more than 200 people currently working at the mine site can keep working, and up to 170 people could be called back to the site.

"It's an early Christmas present," he said. "It's going to continue to allow the 200 and some guys to continue work and the 170 who are on call to be able to be called back to work."

Earlier this summer the mine was given permission to start operating again and is gearing up for 24-hour-a-day production.

The Environment Ministry said in a statement the new short-term permit allows the mine to discharge treated water from the pit, where it is currently being stored, into nearby Hazeltine Creek and through a pipeline into Quesnel Lake.

The province says water from the tailings pit will be treated before its released into the lake 30 to 40 meters below the surface. Quesnel Lake is the world's deepest fjord lake, and a major tributary of the Fraser River.

"The permit is needed because it is estimated that, under normal precipitation conditions, water levels in Springer Pit will reach permitted capacity in April 2016," said the ministry statement. "Springer Pit is an existing open pit on the mine site where tailings are currently being managed."

Safety concerns raised

Earlier this month, Cobb and environmental groups expressed concerns that the pit was filling rapidly and the government was falling behind efforts to ensure environmental safety at the mine site.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said there were no concerns about another potential breach at the mine.

"It is much fuss for no reason," he said.

The Environment Ministry's statement said the discharged water must meet government guidelines for aquatic and public health.

An overjoyed Cobb says he was prepared to drink the water.

"It's pure water," he said. "They've got a $2-million filtration system that it will go through. From what I'm told, the water that's coming out of there you can drink."

The short-term discharge permit is the second of three approval steps the mine must receive before granted full operation status. The company must submit a long-term water treatment and discharge plan by June 30, 2016.

An independent report concluded last January that the spill of 24 million cubic metres of silt and water into nearby lakes and rivers in August 2014 was caused by a poorly designed dam.

The report said the pond at the Imperial Metals Corp. open pit copper and gold mine burst without warning, hours after workers had been at the foot of the structure unaware of the impending devastation.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.