Two years after one of the worst environmental disasters in B.C. history, the Ministry of Energy and Mines has authorized Mount Polley Mines to return to full production using the repaired and strengthened tailings storage facility.
Mines Minister Bill Bennett says he didn’t make the decision, but says he supports the one approved by the deputy chief inspector of mines Diane Howe.
And Bennett says he is confident the work that still needs to be done will be, by the time he retires at the next election.
“We’re doing a major review of the mining code, I’m hoping that we can get the code changed this fall. That’s very significant because that’s going to require companies to have these independent tailings review panels.”
Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb says it’s been a long two years and he’s pleased.
“Not only is it going to create some stability for the mine and the workers, with the review and process it had to got through, I’m fairly sure incidents like that will not happen again, particularity in the breach of the tailings pond.”
Cobb says full restoration of the mine would see a total of around 300 workers.
The August 2014 breach sent 24 million cubic meters of mine silt and water to leak into nearby Hazeltine Creek, which flows into Quesnel Lake.
Ensuing tests showed elevated levels of selenium, arsenic, and other metals contained in the water.
A local state of emergency was also declared for several communities in the days after the catastrophe.
Imperial Metals, the owner of the copper and gold mine, was ordered by the province to pay for the cleanup, as well as submit a comprehensive assessment and action plan.
In January 2015, a report by an independent panel of geotechnical engineers found the breach was caused by flaws in the dam design that caused it’s foundation to fail.
The government announced the completion of the first stage of the cleanup process in July 2015, and the mine was given a temporary permit to re-start production.
The mine was then given permission in November 2015 to discharge treated waste water into local waterways.
In March, the province gave a temporary permit to permit to discharge effluent into Quesnel Lake, which it said was needed after heavy rains overwhelmed the mine’s new waste water treatment plant.
Last December, Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett introduced legislation to allow the province to swiftly fine non-compliant mining companies in the wake of the breach.