WLFN Chief Willie Sellars, front left and Imperial Metals President Brian Kynock sign a renewed participation agreement Tuesday, April 12. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

WLFN Chief Willie Sellars, front left and Imperial Metals President Brian Kynock sign a renewed participation agreement Tuesday, April 12. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Williams Lake First Nation and Imperial Metals renew participation agreement over Mount Polley Mine

The initial agreement was signed in 2011

Williams Lake First Nation has renewed a participation agreement with Imperial Metals as the company eyes reopening Mount Polley Mine, possibly in May or June of this year.

After the mine’s tailing dam breached in August 2014, releasing about 17 million cubic meters of water and eight million cubic meters of tailings and materials into nearby Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake, the mine operated from 2015 to 2019.

Former Chief Ann Louie was the leader of WLFN when the initial agreement was signed in 2011.

On Tuesday, April 12, WLFN Chief Willie Sellars and Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch added their signatures to the renewed agreement during a short ceremony at WLFN’s new administration building on Quigli Drive.

“Chief Ann pushed the envelope, and with the hard work of our staff and council, we were able to make sure that the agreement was signed and benefits started flowing to the Williams Lake First Nation,” Sellars said of the initial agreement.

The past and new agreement ensure WLFN has a seat at the table, was able to have a say and give input and audit environmental impacts and resource extraction that continues to happen within WLFN traditional territory, he added.

“We started looking at building revenue streams for our people.”

Kynoch said the mine has operated since 1997 and the company looks forward to working with WLFN for a long time to come.

“I remember well the day with Chief Louie signing the agreement and at the time that was the first agreement between an operating mine and a First Nation in the province. It was a momentous day and I think it helped bring change.”

He told Sellars he has been grateful for the agreement as it has helped overcome some very difficult times for him personally.

Kynoch thanked Aaron Higginbottom, WLFN senior manager of natural resources and economic development, for his help with the rehabilitation of Hazeltine Creek.

Environmental stewardship is forefront in the agreement, said Kirk Dressler, director of legal and corporate services at WLFN.

“It provides both parties the opportunity to collaborate on authorizations, permitting and other environmental matters. It guarantees that we have the opportunity to provide input on those things to ensure we shape operations at the mine to address potential impacts on Aboriginal rights and title.”

Other aspects of the agreement include employment, capacity development, and support so WLFN can solicit technical advice for any impacts the mine has on fisheries or water.

“There is some scrutiny that people attach to this and ask “how do you feel being involved with the company that was responsible for one of the largest mining disasters in this country?” but the honest to goodness truth is that it’s a more gut-wrenching situation to be sitting on the outside watching what is going on than to be engaged at the table,” Dressler said, adding the agreement gives the nation some assurance.

“We can be vigilant and have the opportunity to give our input on what is happening. We are actually excited to roll up our sleeves and work on it again. The fact there are 350 jobs is significant too – hopefully they can find and fill those with people from our community.”

The agreement remains in place for the life of the mine.

Kynoch said presently there is pre-stripping going on down to the ore at the mine site.

“We are moving about moving about 75,000 tons a day recently. We have about about 100 people working at the mine and we need to get to 130. Now we are starting to organize crews for the mill. Nothing is ever easy, but we are confident we will be able to work our way through it.”

While it depends on pricing and more drilling to see if it can be expanded, the remaining life of the mine is presently estimated between eight to 10 years, Kynoch confirmed.

First NationsMount PolleyWilliams Lake