Councillors push for mine reopening

Williams Lake city council is considering asking government to allow Mount Polley Mine to resume its operations.

Williams Lake city council is considering asking government to allow Mount Polley Mine to resume its operations, even though a cleanup plan for the mining disaster has yet to be approved by government.

On Aug. 4, the mine’s tailings pond failed, spilling more than 14 million cubic metres of water and mine waste into Quesnel and Polley Lakes.

Council recommended sending a letter to the premier during a committee of the whole meeting Tuesday after discussing a report prepared by Coun. Surinderpal Rathor who said he had been approached by many mine employees.

“As the mine is a significant employer and contributor to the local economy, ceasing production will have significant effects on employees, suppliers, and those who are related to the mine either directly or indirectly,” Rathor said in his report.

Mayor Kerry Cook said Thursday council has been working with the mine, steelworkers union and the community.

“By sending a letter to government we are saying how important the mine is to Williams Lake and the region,” Cook said.

NDP leader John Horgan agreed with council’s request that people get back to work as soon as possible, but insisted there’s a comprehensive investigation underway that needs to unfold first.

“We don’t even have a clue if they are asking the right questions because we don’t have access to the materials the investigators have,” Horgan said.

Horgan said he would rather see Imperial Metals putting as many people to work on the mitigation and rehabilitation.

“To open the mine before we have an understanding of what went on is premature.”

From a regulatory standpoint Imperial Metals would have to go through a number of steps in order to re-open, said David Haslam, spokesperson for the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

“This includes a requirement for the operator to submit a Mines Act permit amendment application,” Haslam told the Tribune. “This application would need to address items such as remediation of the tailings storage facility, an update to the mine plan, identification of secure storage for tailings, and an update to water management and monitoring programs.”

First Nations and public consultation would also be part of the process, Haslam said.

United Steelworkers Union financial secretary Bob MacNair said 300 union members are presently working on the cleanup at the mine.

“Only 20 of our members who are underground specialists were laid off.”

Macnair said Mount Polley Mine manager Dale Reimer attended the meeting and told council the company is going from week to week, only able to promise work as permits for rehabilitation are approved.

“We all want the mine to reopen but we all know there are environmental standards and processes under the law that have to be met and nobody opposes those,” Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said. “Ministry of Environment’s approval of the cleanup plan has to be the first step.”

Once the cleanup plan is signed off, Barnett hopes people can continue to be employed to do the remediation to move forward.

“Hopefully Red Chris opens soon so Imperial Metals can have some money coming in to help Mount Polley stay on board,” Barnett added.