As the one-year anniversary of the Mount Polley Mine tailings impoundment breach approaches, the mine is poised to restart on a restricted permit.
“It is anticipated the mine will restart the first week of August,” said Steve Robertson, vice-president of corporate affairs for Imperial Metals Monday.
For the restricted restart, the mine has permission to mill four million tons of ore, which is about half a normal year’s worth of material.
During restricted operations, the mine is only permitted to store tailings in the Springer Pit.
To feed the mill, 1,000 tons a day will come from the underground mine, which has higher grade ore, and the rest will come from the Cariboo Pit.
Once the government issued the restricted restart permit on July 9, 2015, unionized millwrights and electricians were called back to work to prepare the mill for production.
“During the period of suspended operations we took care of some short and long-term maintenance activities inside the mill,” Robertson said.
United Steelworkers Union president Paul French said 40 union workers have been recalled so far.
“I don’t have a final number of how many will be recalled once they get going, and I’m a little nervous as to when the actual start date will be because the moon and the stars have to line up first,” French said, noting there are about 120 unionized employees there right now and he’s hopeful that number will reach 200.
Some of the union’s members have gone to work at Imperial Metals’ Red Chris Mine in northern B.C. and others have gone elsewhere.
“People can only hang around for so long,” French said.
Whether or not the mine is approved for long-term operations, the company is hoping to discharge water in the short term from the Springer Pit and will need to have a plan for long-term water management by 2016.
Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennet said the mine will not get a long-term permit or a short term permit to discharge water into the environment unless it can prove that water will be drinking quality guideline standard and meet the standards for aquatic organisms.
“So it has to be pretty clean water,” Bennett said.
Presently the elevation of water in the Springer Pit is 1,016 metres above sea level. The permitted level is 1,030 metres because above that it is possible the water could seep into the groundwater.
Robertson said a water treatment plant has been ordered from Veolia Water Technologies in Quebec that will be installed below the original tailings impoundment.
If the company’s temporary water discharge plan is approved by the government, the company hopes to discharge water from the Springer Pit through two diffuser pipes directly into Quesnel Lake after treatment, Robertson said.
The water would enter the lake at a level of 40 metres below the surface and below the thermocline.
“The lake will be carefully monitored to ensure we continue to meet all the prescribed guidelines,” Robertson said.
People wanting to respond to the water discharge plan can send written responses to Mount Polley Mine, Box 12 Likely, B.C. V0L 1N0 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bennett agreed the government has been criticized for granting the restricted restart, but said there are families in the region who are worried about losing their homes.
“It was important to get the mine open, even though the company still has some hurdles to get over,” Bennett said.