Mining officials in British Columbia have issued a conditional restricted permit to re-start the Mount Polley Mine, the site of a 2014 tailings dam disaster, which will allow mine owner Imperial Metals to operate at roughly half of its normal rate.
The amended Mines Act permit, according to BC Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett, and Minister of Environment Mary Polak, is the first of three steps the company needs to continue operation and does not include the ability to discharge water off the site.
In the early fall, Bennett said July 9, the company will need a second conditional permit to treat and discharge water in order for operations to continue.
“Lastly,” Bennett said, “the company must submit a long term water treatment and discharge plan to government by June 30, 2016.
“The mine will not be authorized to continue to operate long-term if it fails to complete either of the last two steps,” he said.
All this does not ease concerns of commercial fishermen, sports fishermen, subsistence users and others in Southeast Alaska engaged in fisheries related businesses, who are concerned about possible adverse affects of Mount Polley and other proposed mines in British Columbia upstream from major salmon fishing streams in Southeast Alaska.
“There’s nothing that convinces me Mount Polley is safe or that any mine with the same type of faulty, outdated tailings technology should be permitted; they are accidents waiting to happen,” said Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association, which represents Alaska’s largest salmon fleet.
“The Mount Polley review panel called them ‘loaded guns’ and stated in their report that B.C. is likely to suffer two tailings dam failures every 10 years,” she said. “Alaska is now downstream from several of these mines and the risk of toxic pollution reaching our rivers is unacceptable for Alaskan and Canadian citizens who rely on clean water and healthy fish, and wildlife.”
Kelly said Canada must be called upon to honor its obligations under the Waters Boundary Treat to safeguard Alaska’s water, fisheries, culture and jobs.
Adding to Alaska’s concerns, said commercial harvester Heather Hardcastle, who represents Salmon Beyond Borders, said another concern is that Imperial Metals recently opened the Red Chris mine in the headwaters of the Stikine River. The Red Chris mine, which is larger than Mount Polley, has greater potential to unleash acid mine drainage, and is subject to the same failed standards of design and oversight in place when Mount Polley’s dam collapsed, she said.
The Stikine River is a major salmon producer, and its flats are also the location of a highly productive and lucrative Dungeness crab fishery.