Mount Polley Mining Corporation’s (MPMC) will have to pay a $9,000 administrative penalty for non-compliance with an effluent discharge permit.
Within the permit, issued on April 7, 2017, by the Ministry of Environment, there was a provision that imposed certain requirements for MPMC to design and test systems to treat mine influenced water.
Included was the need to submit a detailed design for pilot passive water treatment systems by Aug. 15, 2017. By July 2019, that did not happen so the ministry referred the company for the administrative penalty.
The company had appealed the penalty, however, the Environmental Assessment Board (EAB) dismissed the appeal in September 2021.
In its ruling the EAB said that MPMC’s failure to comply with a term of its permit for more than two years undermined the integrity of the legislative scheme and interfered with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy’s ability to protect the environment from the potential impacts of waste discharge.
For Quesnel Lake resident Doug Watt the fine did not go far enough.
“It is unfortunate that the Environmental Appeal Board Panel did not increase the relatively minuscule penalty, when you consider the advantageous position it leaves MPMC regarding the authorized mine effluent discharge into Quesnel Lake,” Watt said. “We were disappointed because they haven’t really been fined for the 2014 spill itself.”
Watt, who is part of the public liaison committee set up in response to the 2014 tailings impoundment breach, said MMPC is using Quesnel Lake to dilute effluent with very little treatment.
“They are supposed to be coming up with alternative methods for discharge that would stop discharge directly into the lake and they’ve put that off and got this fine for putting it off,” he said.
“In the end they are probably going to get what they want and that is to discharge into Quesnel Lake. To our minds, that is a very poor practice to continue to pollute the lake indefinitely.”
Brian Kynoch, president of Imperial Metals, said the company felt it was getting fined for something that was impossible to do.
“We were doing all these studies and we don’t have the people to do them so we went to consultants and the consultants couldn’t do it on time,” he said.
“So from our perspective, what are we supposed to do? We couldn’t hand it in on the date if the consultant didn’t have it finished. Obviously that doesn’t seem to matter.”
Kynoch said the company has been asking for amendments to its existing water management plan.
“Last year there was way more runoff than normal when all the rains and high snowpack happened. We built up water and we’ve got a bunch of water that meets criteria. Instead of putting it through a treatment plant we just want to discharge it,” he said. “That’s one of the things we are asking for.”
When asked why all the water should not go through the treatment plant, he responded the plant is set up for normal rainfall and the site received double the amount of rainfall last year.
“The treatment plant is still running flat out and we are going as fast as we can with it, so we want to take the stuff that already meets criteria and put it out without putting it through the treatment plant because the treatment plant is not going to do anything to it.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy confirmed MPMC is presently authorized to discharge treated water from the mine site into Quesnel Lake until Dec. 31, 2022 and has filed two preliminary applications to manage excess water at the site.
The first application, received on April 21, 2021, is to discharge water from Springer Pit to Quesnel Lake to de-water the pit and allow active mining to restart.
A second application, received on Feb. 2, 2021, is to amend the effluent permit to extend the discharge of excess water to Quesnel Lake beyond Dec 31, 2022.
“In both cases, final applications are pending and no decisions on either applications have been made yet by the Statutory Decision Maker (SDM). No decisions will be made until an extensive notification and engagement process is undertaken as per normal permitting processes,” the spokesperson confirmed.
The ministry spokesperson also noted due to the scope of the amendment application, the ministry asked MPMC to work with the ministry and the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation on the application.
Since then, a joint application process was initiated by the Major Mines Office for a review of an updated mine plan, including the extension to discharge treated mine effluent into Quesnel Lake.
“This application is considered a major amendment, as per the public notification regulation, and as a result is subject to public notification and engagement requirements,” the spokesperson noted, adding the joint application process will be extensive and allow interested parties to review the application and provide comments before any decision is made.
To date the mine remains closed, however, Kynoch said there are about 20 people on site doing some preparation work in anticipation of starting up again.
“We have been doing things that will make it easier to reopen, hopefully soon,” he said. “I was hoping COVID would be over by September, but it doesn’t feel like it is.”