Mount Polley Mine’s short-term permit to treat and discharge water from the mine site has been approved by the Ministry of Environment.
The permit is needed because it is estimated that, under normal precipitation conditions, water levels in the Springer Pit will reach permitted capacity in April 2016, the ministry said Monday.
Treated water will be discharged into Hazeltine Creek and flow approximately seven kilometres to a sediment pond.
From the sediment pond, the treated water will enter a pipeline for discharge through diffusers approximately 30 to 40 metres below the surface of Quesnel Lake.
Imperial Metals vice-president of corporate affairs Steve Robertson said the government signed off on the monitoring plan that the company has proposed late Monday.
“Now that it is approved we can begin to discharge the water,” Robertson said, noting the company has faith in the permitting process. “We live in an environment where there is a tough regulatory regime, but it works.”
With the temporary water discharge permit, the mine will only be able to store tailings in the Springer Pit and cannot use the tailings storage impoundment that breached in August 2014, Robertson added.
United Steelworkers Union president Paul French said the union is happy the permit happened sooner than later.
“We watched the process as it unfolded and saw it come out with positive results for the discharge of the water,” French said. “People are worried it’s going to be tailings water going into the lake, but it’s going to be treated water, and it’s basically groundwater.”
It was unfortunate the water discharge permit wasn’t approved five or six years ago, French added.
Of the 300 people working at Mount Polley, about 250 of them are unionized, French confirmed.
Final approval of the permit was made by a statutory decision maker from the MOE after a 30-day public consultation and comment period and a comprehensive technical review by the Cariboo Mine Development Review Committee.
The committee includes representatives from provincial agencies, First Nations, City of Williams Lake and Cariboo Regional District, community of Likely, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada.
Cariboo Regional District Chair Al Richmond said it was a good day for the region.
“We are pleased and relieved the mine can get on with the next steps of what needs to be done,” Richmond said. “We were worried because the water level in the Springer Pit was getting high, but the mine will have to manage that as it sees fit.”
Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb echoed Richmond saying the news was an early perfect Christmas present.
“I am pleased they got to this stage,” Cobb said.
The ministry also said there was extensive engagement with the Williams Lake Indian Band and Soda Creek Indian Band as well as the residents of Likely.
Next week Mount Polley Mine will host two public meetings to present an application for the resumption of full-time operations it submitted mid-November.
The meetings take place Monday, Dec. 7 at the Likely community hall from 7 to 9 p.m. and Wednesday, Dec. 9 in Williams Lake at the Gibraltar Room from 7 to 9 p.m.
“There is a lot of work to figure out the details for the resuming full-time operations,” Robertson said. “Part of the permitting process is to be able to allow the plan to be perfected.”
It is expected the mine will submit its completed plan by June 2016.