One month after a massive spill at the Mount Polley mine, the company that owns the facility is keeping mum on when it could reopen, though the union says it plans to push for a quick return.
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 days of water-use bans for hundreds of people and the province has said it could have adverse effects on marine life. The province has also announced an independent investigation into the spill, and outside inspections at every other B.C. tailings pond.
A berm to prevent the further spread of tailings is expected to be completed this week, but a company spokesman would not say when Mount Polley could resume operations.
"I can't confidently give you an answer on that right now," Steve Robertson, vice-president of corporate affairs at Imperial Metals Corporation, which owns the mine, said in an interview.
Mr. Robertson said he also could not comment on what caused the spill, since there is an investigation under way.
The panel of experts studying Mount Polley must submit its report to the province by Jan. 31.
While Imperial Metals has said little about Mount Polley's future, the union representing hundreds of workers said it plans to push for the mine to reopen very soon.
Paul French, president of United Steelworkers Local 1-425, said if Mount Polley were to be given permission to divert its tailings to a nearby pit, it could be back up and running relatively quickly.
"There's no reason that that mine can't start back up in operation while they're doing the investigation on the tailings dam. I believe they should be doing that," Mr. French said in an interview.
Mr. French said he is not playing down the effects of the spill, but it's important to keep people working.
"If people don't buy into that plan, they're absolutely loony," he said.
More than 40 of the mine's approximately 300 workers had been given layoff notices.
However, Mr. French said the number not working has since shrunk to about a dozen, as the company has created additional positions to support the cleanup and mitigation efforts.
Ryan Shotton, a spokesman at the Ministry of Mines, in an e-mail said the ministry shares the union's desire to see people back at work. However, Mr. Shotton said any plan to restore operations would require permits and approvals and could only go ahead after a rigorous review.
Mr. Shotton said water and sediment quality samples are being collected on an ongoing basis. He said the province continues to work with the community, First Nations and local government to ensure the long-term protection of public health and the cleanup and remediation of the impacted area.
The province had earlier said the Mount Polley breach resulted in approximately 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of slurry being released. However, Imperial Metals says the amount of slurry is now believed to be closer to 14 million cubic metres.
Mr. Robertson said the initial estimate was just that, and the company released the revised figure at a community meeting weeks ago, though it only recently received media attention.
Mr. Shotton said the early numbers were provided by Imperial Metals using the best estimates available at the time. He said work continues to fully understand the chemistry of the water and tailings that were released.