Mount Polley Mine may be forced to cease operations soon as its temporary tailings storage pit nears capacity and the company awaits approval on a possible water discharge plan.
Imperial Metals vice-president of operations Steve Robertson said he has not seen a measurement of the Springer Pit level this week, but by last week there were only 6.5 metres left before the water level reaches the critical mark of 1030 metres — the maximum level allowed by the current permit the mine holds.
The mine has been waiting for Ministry of Environment approval of the discharge plan since submitting it in July.
“At 1,030 it is expected to infiltrate. It’s forcing us into a position where we are going to be out of compliance with our permit,” Robertson said.
A final decision on the water discharge permit is expected by the end of the month, said a spokesperson with the Ministry of Environment Wednesday.
“An application for short-term discharge — no more than two years — of treated mine effluent to Quesnel Lake has gone through a public consultation and is under review by the ministry and other agencies,” the ministry said.
For Mayor Walt Cobb and city council the ministry’s time line is not good enough.
On Wednesday Cobb sent a letter to Premier Christy Clark saying unless the permit is issued immediately, the mine will experience another breach.
“Due to heavy snowfall, the water is rising at a significantly accelerated level; should the water discharge permit not be granted immediately, our region will suffer another environmental disaster.”
Further delay, Cobb said, will be catastrophic — environmentally, economically and socially.
“The blame will be solely with the Ministry of Environment,” Cobb said.
Williams Lake Indian Band economic development officer Kirk Dressler said representatives from his community and Soda Creek have been involved with multiple meetings about the permit this week with the intention to finalize any outstanding issues with respect to First Nations.
“We certainly understand the urgency and the need to get this permit process and get water off site in an organized fashion and understand Mount Polley’s desire to get this dealt with promptly,” Dressler said.
Dressler said there is some due diligence that has to be directed to the permit and largely it is around the monitoring requirements associated with the discharge. A strategy for a longer term monitoring plan to ensure any potential impacts are appropriately studied and addressed is needed, he added.
There are 300 plus people employed directly at the mine, and the spinoffs would impact a total of 1,000 to 1,500 people Cobb said.