The opening of the Imperial Metals Red Chris copper and gold mine has been delayed until the new year as the company continues to seek a final provincial environmental permit and negotiates with the Tahltan Central Council over recommendations contained in a review of the facility’s tailings pond.
Speaking in Terrace Dec. 12, Tahltan Central Council president Chad Day said the next few months will be critical for agreements with Imperial which had originally anticipated starting up its $643 million mine on Tahltan traditional territory by the end of this year..
“There is still negotiations happening so it’s difficult to say if and when that mine is going to start operating soon,” said Day.
The tailing pond report commissioned by the Tahltan and paid for by Imperial from consultants Klohn Crippen Berger pinpointed 22 recommendations to ensure proper mine preparation including a drainage blanket, raising one of the crests of the dam and precautionary monitoring during early operation to make sure the tailings facility was functioning correctly.
“We plan on ensuring that all the recommendations get implemented in one form or another and that’s all part of our discussions with the company right now,” said Day.
The review was arranged following a blockade of the mine by Tahltan protesters and others who were worried that the failure of Imperial’s Mt. Polley copper mine tailings pond in August would be repeated at Red Chris. The mine is located approximately 20 kilometres east of Hwy37 North, 18 kilometres southeast of the village of Iskut.
Imperial vice president Steve Robertson agreed with Day’s assessment about an opening of the mine.
“I would agree with Chad that the next couple months are going to be very important because this is a time when we actually transition from being a conceptual project into being a real project which has actual real monitoring and implementation going on,” said Robertson.
“We are anticipating that we are going to be commissioning the tailings impoundment in the new year, like right after January 1,” he continued. “We feel that we’ll probably be seeking authorization to actually be doing the commissioning and have the full permit … before the end of first quarter.”
The vice president added that the Red Chris team has met with the Tahltan Heritage Resources Environmental Assessment Team (THREAT), a wing of the Tahltan government composed of an engineer, water experts and other natural resource personnel.
“As a company we have met with the Tahltan, with THREAT, and we provided a response to all 22 of the recommendations, and feel that we have a solid work plan to be able to move forward and be able to address all the matters that were brought forward,” said Robertson. “We’re not in any way being held up by the Tahltan [Central Council], it is a very co-operative relationship.”
Day said the Tahltan want to be granted oversight of the dam “forevermore” and Robertson confirmed that the negotiation “ensures involvement of the Tahltan in our operating plans moving forward.”
Day said that the Tahltan environmental and resource team is working hard.
“They [THREAT] are working with the report and working really hard to do the research they need to do in order to make sure that we come back to the table with Imperial and put together an agreement that is satisfactory to the Tahltan nation to ensure, as I said, lots of oversight, and that world class standards with tailings ponds and other threats to the land are always followed.”
Day, elected just this past summer, said he wants to have Tahltan people informed earlier about projects on their traditional territory so they can make up their minds early on.
“The worst thing is being caught in limbo,” he said.
Provincial aboriginal relations minister John Rustad, who was in Terrace with Day to announce the province was giving the Tahltan money to buy into a hydro electric project, said the government isn’t directly involved in the negotiations between the Tahltan and Imperial.
“Those are nation to business discussions that they will reach through their impact benefit agreement,” said Rustad. “We are also working with the Tahltan on what we call an economic community development agreement, an opportunity for a revenue share of the mineral tax that will come to the province on Red Chris.”
Rustad said these agreements don’t necessarily have to be in place before the mine opens but that, “we always want to work with the Tahltan to see if there are ways to get it done.”
The province does, however, have to grant Imperial a permit to discharge effluent into the mine’s tailings pond which is situated near several lakes.