Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

The open pit Kemess South Mine was in production from 1988 to 2011.

JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

A mine rejected in 2008 on environmental grounds is back in play, with a different company at the helm and plans for an underground, rather than an open-pit, operation.

Toronto-based AuRico Gold filed a project description for the Kemess Underground Mine Project with the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office last month, reviving plans for a gold-copper deposit about 250 kilometres north of Smithers and about 6.5 kilometres north of former producer Kemess South Mine, which was in production from 1988 to 2011.

In the years leading up to Kemess South being depleted, former owner Northgate Minerals made plans to extend operations by developing the nearby Kemess North deposit. Plans at the time called for disposing of tailings and waste rock from expanded operations in Duncan Lake, also known as Amazay Lake.

Story continues below advertisement

That plan did not sit well with aboriginal groups that had historic and cultural connections to the lake.

In 2007, a federal review panel concluded Kemess North as it was then designed was not in the public interest "because of significant adverse environmental, social and cultural effects, some of which may not emerge until many years after mining operations cease."

After reviewing the panel decision, Ottawa in March, 2008, said the project should not go ahead.

That was a major setback for Northgate, which was acquired by AuRico Gold in a friendly, $1.5-billion deal in 2011.

Even before that deal closed, attempts were under way to find a way to put Kemess North back on the table – which meant giving up the notion of using Duncan Lake as a tailings site.

"It was obvious that to get social licence [for the project], we had to do a far better job of explaining and engaging with First Nations," said Chris Rockingham, who was formerly with Northgate and is now vice-president of business development with AuRico. "To get a discussion going, we made a commitment that we would not consider using Amazay Lake for any purpose related to mining."

The current proposal calls for tailings to be disposed of in the old open pit.

Story continues below advertisement

AuRico has also been able to develop its feasibility plan based on copper and gold prices that are significantly higher than they were when Northgate was pursuing the project.

AuRico and Tse Keh Nay – an alliance representing the Takla Lake, Tsay Keh Dene and Kwadacha aboriginal groups – reached an "interim measures" agreement in 2012 that set the stage for the project to move into environmental review.

AuRico has other producing mines so is not under pressure to bring Kemess Underground into production, Mr. Rockingham said.

The $500-million Kemess Underground project must undergo a provincial review, and a federal review may also be required. Under rules introduced in 2012, B.C. has applied to substitute its process for a federal review if one is required. The deadline for public comments on that request is March 13.

It is not unusual for a mine proponent that fails to obtain a permit to take another try.

Vancouver-based Taseko Mines redesigned its New Prosperity copper-gold mine project after the federal government turned down an earlier proposal – known as Prosperity – in 2010. Ottawa rejected the $1-billion project a second time in February.

Story continues below advertisement

Taseko is pursuing a judicial review of what it maintains was a flawed federal panel review.

Designs can be reconfigured based on factors including commodity prices, technology, environmental issues or a change in corporate ownership.

Environmental laws do not prohibit multiple applications, but permits are typically granted with a limited time window in which proponents have to develop the project or start the process over again.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies