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The company says its operation, which will not include an above-ground tailings pond to store its waste materials, will produce a smaller environmental footprint than other larger mines in B.C.’s northwest

Ben Nelms/Bloomberg

British Columbia has approved a construction permit for a proposed $50-million silver, lead and zinc mine just south of the Yukon border after the project's economic and environmental plans helped win support from an area First Nation.

Mines Minister Bill Bennett said Monday that the underground Silvertip mine could create up to 200 jobs and could be in operation for more than 20 years. Vancouver-based JDS Silver Inc., said once it receives the necessary permits, it plans to operate about 150 days a year and shut down in the winter months.

The mine, located about 90 kilometres southwest of Watson Lake, Yukon, has been of interest to several mining proposals since the 1950s due to the high-grade lead-silver-zinc deposit.

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Bennett said the company can immediately start building and that the operation will produce a smaller environmental footprint than other larger mines in B.C.'s northwest.

He said it will be an underground operation so much of its ore tailings will be stored below ground.

But approval permits are still required for the mine's underground shaft and its above-ground operations that will include a mill to turn the ore to concentrate, Bennett said.

Bennett said he expects the Silvertip mine to be in operation within the next 15 months.

The Silvertip mine does not include an above-ground tailings pond to store its waste materials. A breach of the tailings pond at central B.C.'s Mount Polley mine last August spilled 24 million cubic metres of silt and water into nearby lakes and rivers.

JDS Silver's chief operating officer Kevin Weston said the mine will be one of the most environmentally responsible operations in the province.

Weston said JDS Silver has worked out a social economic partnership with the area's Kaska First Nation.

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"JDS Silver has committed to dry-stack tailings versus a conventional tailings pond, resulting in very little post-closure impact on the environment," he said. "The company intends to leave the land with minimal impact while maximizing benefits to all of our stakeholders and our partners, the Kaska First Nation."

State officials and environmental groups in Alaska have raised concerns about B.C.'s mines and the province's regulatory oversight, saying they are concerned a similar tailings disaster at a northwest B.C. mine could harm sensitive and valuable waterways that flow into Alaska.

The state's Lt.-Gov. Byron Mallott toured the Mount Polley mine site last month and met with Bennett and Environment Minister Mary Polak at the legislature.

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