Mount Polley works toward full recovery

If everything goes according to plan Mount Polley Mine will be back in full operation by the spring of 2016 say mine officials.

If everything goes according to plan Mount Polley Mine will be back in full operation by the spring of 2016 say mine officials.

That was the goal relayed during a series of meetings held in the region last week to update the public on the status of restoration efforts after the mine’s disastrous tailings pond breach last summer.

“The best question we’ve been asked so far is when we can get all the workers back to work,” said Steve Robertson, Imperial Metals corporate affairs vice-president during a public meeting held at the Gibraltar Room in Williams Lake, Wednesday, Aug. 19.

“The people who have supported us so much through all this are the dedicated employees,” Robertson said. “They’ve shown so much heart and soul and we need to get them back as soon as possible. The best way we can give back is to give them long-term, stable jobs.”

Lyn Anglin, chief scientific officer for Imperial Metals and Lee Nikl the senior environmental scientist with Golder Associates (consultants for Imperial Metals) took the audience through a power point presentation and along with Robertson, answered questions and addressed concerns from the audience.

The presentation focused on remediation work including wood debris cleanup, new channels established, bridge replacement and road improvement, and ongoing monitoring of aquatic life in collaboration with other agencies, including First Nations groups and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The Mount Polley team reported that the breach has been repaired and that a lot of buttressing has been done to shore up the outside perimeter of the tailings pond.

Nikl talked about a current permit the mine has submitted for a short-term water discharge solution.  He explained that when precipitation exceeds evaporation, the extra water needs to be managed.

“Rain and snow that falls on mine rock and soil builds up, and the mine wants to keep that water on site and manage it,” Nikl said, adding that they have applied for a short-term effluent permit.

“We have to do something,” Nikl said. “If we start discharging in October, we can maintain it; if not it will start to seep out and eventually flow out across the top. What we want to do is set up a Veolia Actiflo system for treating the water, which is used by a number of mines in Canada.”

The cost of the treatment system is more than $1 million dollars, Anglin said. It would be placed next to the tailings impoundment area and the effluent would be piped safely into Quesnel Lake. She added that the effluent would be treated before discharge and that the mine’s untreated effluent consistently tests as non-toxic.  She assured the audience that effluent is not tailings.

“This is water that has contact with mine rock and soil and is collected on site,” Anglin explained. “We’ll treat it and discharge it according to regulations.”

A detailed engineering design for the water treatment system is complete, the system has been ordered and will arrive soon, the pipes for releasing the effluent have been delivered and the mine is waiting for word on the permit, which Anglin said is expected soon.

Besides dealing with a short-term solution for the excess water issue, a long-term solution for getting up and running at full capacity is being developed, Anglin added.

“We hope to have the short-term water discharge operation in place by Oct. 15, and our vision is to return to full operation by spring 2016,” Anglin continued.

Before the breach there were 370 employees at the mine, and 183 employees are currently on the job; there are some openings at present and some training opportunities available, Anglin said, adding that ongoing permits will determine when the rest of the mine employees will be called back to work.

Anglin, Nikl and Robertson all said how impressed they have been with the dedicated work force at Mount Polley to do the restoration and rebuilding so well and so fast.

Robertson said that the community meetings have gone well, that people seemed to feel that their questions were answered and their concerns addressed.

“The president of Imperial Metals is dedicated to making sure that local communities are fully involved in plans as we move forward,” Robertson said.

Public meetings took place in Likely, at Xat’sull Heritage Village, and after the Gibraltar Room in Williams Lake, continued in Quesnel.

Robertson said the meeting at the Xat’sull Heritage Village was fantastic.

“We had a tour of the site with one of the elders, focusing on their history and heritage,” Robertson said, adding that it was a good conversation with very intelligent questions — exactly what they look forward to in community input meetings.