The board of directors of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) have both praised the Blackwater Project’s environmental efforts and expressed frustration with the project’s delay last week.
The project’s original construction start date was 2015, but has since been moved to 2018.
New Gold’s proposed open pit gold and silver mine, located approximately 110 km southwest of Vanderhoof, voluntarily paused its environmental assessment in August 2016. According to Claudette Gouger, Blackwater Project’s community manager, this was to allow time for review of changes to waste and water management design of the project that had been recommended by First Nations, government and stakeholders.
The environmental assessment remains paused and New Gold is now proposing another change – this time to the alignment of its proposed 140-km, 230-kilovolt transmission line from the BC Hydro Glenannan substation to the mine site. An open house was held last Monday in Vanderhoof to provide information about the proposed change and to receive comments from the public about potential effects related to the change.
“With the proposed changes, the route is approximately six kilometres shorter with an estimated length of 134 km versus 140 km,” explained Gouger. “The effect of the change is that the proposed transmission line alignment avoids increasing disturbance within remaining areas of intact forests.”
Bill Miller, RDBN director of Electoral Area B (Burns Lake rural), said the Blackwater Project has had its environmental assessment process “way beyond the point.”
“They stepped back voluntary [with their environmental assessment], they had conversations with First Nations on how to best approach the project, they have been upfront from the beginning, they have been fully engaged in the community and that’s what we should be demanding of every project that comes to our region,” he said.
However, Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen said he’s been frustrated with the delay in construction.
“I’m really frustrated with where this is going and, to me, I’d like to hear why this hasn’t been pushed ahead quicker,” he said. “We just want this environmental assessment going ahead.” “After the Mount Polley failure it seems that New Gold has done so much more than it needed to address environmental issues,” he said, reffering to Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley gold-and-copper mine dam failure that occured in 2014.
Gouger said New Gold changed a portion of its project design after carefully considering recommendations from the Mount Polley Independent Review Panel.
“We requested the pause so that there could be a fulsome review by stakeholders and indigenous communities,” she said.
Once developed, the Blackwater Project is expected to produce more gold than all other New Gold operations combined. The mine expects to hire from 1000 to 1500 people during construction – from 2018 to 2020 – and 500 full-time workers to operate the mine from 2020 to 2037.
“These jobs are really important to this area and this region, and they will come exactly at the same time of a downturn in the forest industry,” added Thiessen, referring to the impending reduction in annual allowable cut in 2020.
The proposed project is being designed to produce 60,000 tonnes per day of gold and silver ore over a 17-year mine life. Gouger said she expects that the environmental assessment will be completed by mid-2017.