Reflecting on the six years that have passed since the Mount Polley Mine disaster, Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch said in some ways it seems like yesterday. At other times it seems like a long time ago.
When the tailings impoundment failed on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014 it was the long weekend. He was on holidays and had been camping on the Nicola River, half way between Merritt and Spences Bridge.
“When I got to Hope my phone started exploding,” he recalled, adding he drove to Vancouver, got on a plane and flew to the Cariboo.
“I can remember that first day at the site and wondering what we were going to do. On the second day because I’m an engineer, I was thinking we need to do this, this and this, and we need to do it right now.”
There were lots of meetings and discussions about studying the disaster, yet his instinct was wanting to do something immediately.
“I wanted to get going. I thought, ‘we cannot just watch it.’
It took until November for Mount Polley Mining Corporation (MPMC) to get permission to repair the damaged tailings dam and a cut-off wall with concrete was put in place, he recalled.
Within about a year the mill was running again but the tailings were being hauled to the Springer Pit for about a year until there was room to put it into the repaired tailings dam.
To date, he said, MPMC has spent just over $29 million on repairing the dam and over $71 million repairing Hazeltine Creek.
Remediation work is underway on a lower reach of Hazeltine Creek and so far the top two reaches have been repaired and fish are spawning there, Kynoch said, noting the majority of the physical work will be completed this summer.
“I think we have $2-point-something [million] left in our budget and that work on lower Hazeltine is about $1-point- [million]-something of it so the majority of the work we have to do will be done this year.”
When asked if the mine has received subsidies for the repairs, Kynoch responded ‘no,’ but did say the remediation costs are factored into the company’s income tax returns.
Every company pays less tax if they have more expenses, he added.
Even though the mine has not been running for more than a year, water from the mine site is still being discharged into Quesnel Lake.
The site has had lots of snow and rain and the water has to go somewhere, Kynoch said.
Environmental monitoring is part of the mine’s environmental plan and the work of three on-site environmental technicians, said former vice president of corporate affairs for Imperial Metals Byng Giraud, who is working as a consultant.
In 2019, technicians took 1,116 water and soil samples, 336 surface water samples, 234 lake samples, 104 contact water samples, 77 groundwater samples, 181 seep samples and 153 other samples.
Samples are taken before the effluent from the mine site goes into the pipe, after it’s treated before it goes down and then at the dilution zone around the diffuser in Quesnel Lake, Kynoch said.
During a previous interview, Kynoch confirmed MPMC is hoping to do some exploration for further mining but said Friday they have yet to do any drilling.
When asked if the mine will re-open, he did not hesitate to say it will and that the price of gold is helping.
Through half of its life Mount Polley got its revenue from gold, he explained.
“Mount Polley is truly a gold mine and there were years when gold was half of its revenue.”
Right now the life span is seven years, but Kynoch would like to get it up to 15 years.
That could mean doing some work on the mill to make it better, he added.
“Mines close and they do re-open,” he said, noting it was closed previously from 2002 to 2005.
“The best place to look for more mineralization is where you already found it. That’s why we are doing some geophysics to do some exploration drilling to hopefully find some more.”
Imperial Metals has been talking with the government about how the re-opening of the mine could help the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.
“We are going to work on a new restart plan. I’ve got an engineer working on it if gold gets to $2,000 an ounce.”