The fallout from the Mount Polley spill has reached other mines, with the province suspending the environmental assessment for one project until the review into the disaster is complete, and the company behind another mine agreeing to temporarily put its plans on hold.
The tailings pond at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine breached on Aug. 4, sending millions of cubic metres of waste into central B.C. waterways.
The spill prompted several days of water-use bans for hundreds of people and the province has said it could harm marine life. A cause has not been determined, but the province this week announced there would be an independent investigation into the spill, and outside inspections at every other B.C. tailings pond.
The province has suspended the environmental assessment of the proposed Morrison copper and gold mine, pending the final report into Mount Polley – a result the company behind the Morrison mine Tuesday described as an unfortunate setback for a project that has already had its share of hurdles.
Erik Tornquist, chief operating officer at Pacific Booker Minerals Inc., said the 45-day ministerial review period for the Morrison mine expired Sunday. The province announced the reviews Monday.
Pacific Booker Minerals must now wait until a report into the Mount Polley breach is released. It must be submitted by Jan. 31.
“It’s unfortunate, although it’s understandable that the province has a concern with respect to tailings facilities,” Mr. Tornquist said of the government’s decision during an interview.
The province had previously refused to issue a certificate for the Morrison mine, despite the fact a government report had concluded it would not result in significant adverse effects if mitigation measures were followed. A B.C. Supreme Court judge overturned the rejection in December, saying the province had failed to meet the requirements of procedural fairness.
Mr. Tornquist said Morrison is not the only mine that’s been affected by the province’s response to Mount Polley, noting a review is also under way at the Red Chris mine.
Red Chris is owned by Imperial Metals Corporation – the same company that owns the Mount Polley mine.
Bill Bennett, B.C.’s Minister of Energy and Mines, in a conference call Monday said Imperial Metals needed one final permit for Red Chris, but had “offered to take a pause” to allow time for an independent assessment at the request of the Tahltan Central Council.
The Tahltan Central Council has expressed concern about Mount Polley and what it could mean for Red Chris, which is also a copper and gold mine.
Neither the Tahltan Central Council nor Imperial Metals returned messages seeking comment on the matter.
The province has signed a letter of understanding with the Williams Lake Indian Band and the Soda Creek Indian Band to work in partnership on all aspects of the Mount Polley breach. The bands have said they’ll push for meaningful mining industry reform.
The Tsilhqot’in National Government, which is also based in Williams Lake, issued a statement Tuesday calling for better benefit-sharing for First Nations on major projects.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission will discuss the Mount Polley spill at a meeting Wednesday. It has asked the uranium mining and milling operations with tailing ponds that it oversees to double check that they are meeting safety requirements.
Nordie Morgenstern, professor emeritus of civil engineering at the University of Alberta and one of the three outside experts who will investigate the Mount Polley breach, said a conference call will be held later this week to plot a course of action.
He said it was “distressing and depressing” to learn of the spill and vowed the investigation into it will be transparent.
“We’re going to do our very best to leave a complete record of everything we’ve looked at and all of the undertakings, so that we could be audited if you like for our due diligence,” he said in an interview.