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Mt Polley could re-open by July: mines minister

Workers at the Mount Polley mine in central British Columbia could be back on the job as early as July 1st, which should come as a relief to nearly 400 employees who have been off work since a tailings breach last summer shut down the copper-gold operation.

That is according to Bill Bennett, B.C. mines minister, who told the Vancouver Sun on Friday that Imperial Metals (TSX:III), the mine owner and operator, has provided all the information needed for the province to issue a mining permit needed for a restart.

The Sun quotes the minister saying that the company has spent nearly $70 million on cleaning up the damage caused after the collapse of a tailings impoundment last August sent millions of cubic metres of water and silt into local waterways.

Imperial applied for a restricted operational permit in January that would allow it to start up the mill and process ore at about half the normal rate. The company was also asking permission to deposit a maximum 4 million tonnes of tailings into the Springer Pit, so as not to include the use of the tailings storage facility to impound tailings from the operation.

If approved, the mine would be allowed to operate through most of 2015.

The tailings breach was a major black eye for the mining industry in B.C. and the provincial government, which faced criticism over perceived lack of oversight in the monitoring of tailings ponds. In March the province drafted a fresh set of rules, developed in collaboration between the ministries of environment and mines, ordering mining companies to consider the possibility of a tailings disaster and to evaluate the environmental, health, social and economic impacts of an accident.

The new requirements apply to all mining companies with applications under environmental assessment and are an interim measure while the Ministry of Mines completes a review of current mining regulations.

Last month, a new report found a number of changes in the local ecosystem caused by the massive spill.

Researchers from the University of Northern British Columbia and the University of B.C., who studied the sediment plume of waste and water within Quesnel Lake in the three months following the incident, have concluded the water reservoir’s ecosystem has changed.

Among other anomalies, the report quotes a rise in the lake’s water level of 7.7 centimetres between Aug 4 and Oct 4, 2014, with the temperature at the bottom of the lake climbing from 1 to 2.5 degrees Celsius.

It also found higher levels of sediment — associated with an increase in turbidity in the lake.