Less than a year after the massive tailings dam breach at Imperial Metals' (TSX:III) Mount Polley copper-gold mine in British Columbia, Imperial Metals has received an environmental permit for another project in the province.
This month, the BC government announced that the company has received its environmental permit for Red Chris, making it the sixth mine to open in the province since June 2011. The government drew attention to the 350 jobs that Red Chris will create, as well as the unique co-management agreement for the mine between Imperial Metals and council members of the Tahltan First Nation.
"Expanding the mine to its intended capacity will make the jobs, training and other benefits that we are using to build our Nation possible," said Chad Day, president of the Tahltan Central Council, in a statement. "From here on our environmental oversight role — an important part of our agreement — will also start to expand."
The 30,000-tonne-per-day open-pit copper-gold mine has a current mine life of 28 years. Construction of the mine was completed in November 2014 and Imperial Metals has started trucking concentrate from the mine to the Port of Stewart in BC.
"This is a significant achievement made possible through a tremendous amount of collaboration between Imperial Metals, the Tahltan Central Council and this government," said BC's minister of energy and mines, Bill Bennett. "This mine will provide hundreds of good-paying jobs for members of the Tahltan Nation and residents of the nearby communities."
Meanwhile, Imperial Metals' Mount Polley mine could come back online by the end of June. The mine shut down last August after a disastrous tailings dam collapse caused mine tailings to flood into Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake near Likely, BC, prompting an order for independent reviews of all tailings facilities across the province. The tailings storage facility at Red Chris has been the subject of no less than three independent reviews.
Companies such as Pacific Booker Minerals (TSX:BKM) saw their projects delayed as a result of the disaster, and local communities near Likely saw their daily lives affected for months afterwards.
Red Chris has also seen its share of controversy. As The Canadian Press notes, the mine faced "considerable opposition" from local First Nation and Alaskans, as the mine is located about 130 kilometers from the Alaska border.
And while Alaska is certainly no stranger to mining, some are still concerned about the number of projects going forward in the area, and about Red Chris in particular. "We have no voice and B.C. has no accountability. And we're taking on all of the risks and receiving none of the benefits," Heather Hardcastle, a commercial fisherman and spokesperson for Alaska-based group Salmon Beyond Borders, told the Press. "We're talking about a scale and scope of mining activity that's never been seen before in a place that's this valuable when it comes to salmon and clean water."
However, Bennett remains adamant that it's safe to mine in BC and that Mount Polley was an exception rather than the rule. "We had Mount Polley, it happened, it was terrible. It happened once in 150 years. We have to make sure it doesn't happen again," he told the Press. "But I think it would be a serious mistake to think that you can't mine safely in B.C. Because I'm convinced you can."
Overall, he stressed the importance of bringing mining investment back to BC. "We've come a long way since the 1990s when the reputation of B.C.'s mining industry was severely damaged," he said in a statement on June 19. "The opening of the Red Chris Mine is further evidence that the mining industry now sees B.C. as a good choice for investment."