A request by the province to substitute a federal environmental review of a proposed mine with a single provincial review has raised concerns and differing opinions.
Shuswap Environmental Action Society president Jim Cooperman was given a guided tour in 2008 of the Ruddock Creek zinc mine, high above the headwaters of the Adams River.
“At that point they were going to do all the processing a long way away in an area that didn’t post any environmental risks,” he says. “Since then, they’ve changed the plans.”
While he describes the plan by mine owner Imperial Metals of Vancouver as basically a good one, Cooperman says his main concern is the tailings to be stored there for the first six months of operation going into Light Lake.
Cooperman’s other concern is the fact the mine is located in a heavy snowfall area with a high likelihood of avalanches, events that he believes could destroy infrastructure and harm the surrounding environment, including Oliver Creek and farther downstream, the Adams River.
Those are all the challenges connected with operating at high elevation and ones that need extreme caution and environmental oversight – from both the province and the federal government, he says.
“The track record for provincial assessments is that they operate as a rubber stamp,” he says. “As we have seen only too clearly by the approval of the province of Prosperity Mine, which would have destroyed Fish Lake, it was subsequently turned down twice in the federal review process.”
Ramsey Hart of Mining Watch Canada says the non-profit organization was alerted to the province’s request by the Neskonlith Indian Band, which opposes the move because of their traditional use of the area.
He will be asking Ottawa to deny the B.C. government’s request.
“We think federal oversight on key issues is really important due to aboriginal use of the land, potential impacts on fisheries and endangered species – all of which are the responsibility of the federal government,” he says, noting he is also concerned the B.C. timeline is too short at 180 days to do a review and 45 days for a decision to be made, whereas a federal assessment can take a year to two if it is done by a review panel. “We also note that the federal government has held projects to a higher standard.”
But both the government and Imperial Metals say oversight will not be reduced.
“The substituted environmental assessment still covers what must be considered under both a provincial assessment and a federal assessment,” reads a June 3 email from the Ministry of Environment, which maintains substitution allows the assessment process to be conducted more effectively and efficiently. “The province’s businesses, First Nations and communities alike will benefit from the elimination of the duplication involved in having two assessments for a single project, while maintaining strong environmental assessments and aboriginal consultation.”
Steve Robertson, Imperial Metals vice-president corporate affairs, agrees. In responding to Cooperman’s concerns, Robertson says the plan is to minimize “to the extent possible,” the environmental footprint of the mine.
He says the tailings, or leftover rocks, will be mixed with cement and be placed back in the mine. But, he points out, until the mine has been in production for several months, there will be no place to put the tailings.
A dam will be built high on the headwaters of Oliver Creek, right beside the processing plant to contain the initial tailings, Robertson says. Avalanche control will be part of the company’s management plan, both in terms of building infrastructure and control measures, he adds.
Robertson says First Nations concerns are also being addressed.
Comments regarding the mine may be made to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency by the June 19 deadline.