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Northern BC Mine Suspended as Experts Probe Polley Spill

Development of Morrison project near Smithers now on hold.

By Maura Forrest 19 Aug 2014 | TheTyee.ca

Science-focused journalist Maura Forrest is pursuing a Master's degree at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism and is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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The proposed Morrison open-pit copper-gold mine would be located 65 kilometres northeast of Smithers. Map courtesy of the Government of Canada.

Development of a proposed copper-gold mine in northern B.C. has been put on hold while an investigation probes the causes of the Aug. 4 Mount Polley mine disaster, which saw 14.5 million cubic metres of water and sediment pour out of a tailings pond into waterways near Likely, British Columbia.

The Morrison open-pit mine is proposed for a site 65 kilometres northeast of Smithers, B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak suspended the project's environmental assessment on Monday, shortly after a provincial review of the Mount Polley spill was announced by Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett.

The suspension order stated that "the ministers desire that any decision on the proposed project be informed by the results of the independent expert engineering investigation and review panel."

It's not the first setback for the Morrison mine, which appears to have been singled out due to concerns about its proposed tailings pond.

Tailings seepage a concern

Proponent Pacific Booker Metals first submitted an environmental assessment for the Morrison mine to the Environmental Assessment Office in 2003. After making multiple requests for more information and conducting external reviews of water quality and fisheries impacts, the EAO completed an assessment report in August 2012, concluding that the project would result in no significant adverse effects.

But in a surprise move, EAO executive director Derek Sturko recommended that an environmental assessment certificate not be issued for the project, citing several concerns that included an "anticipated long-term decline in water quality" in nearby Morrison Lake.

The potential impacts listed in the EAO's assessment report included the possible seepage of tailings water from the tailings pond into surface and groundwater, as well as pollution from the planned discharge of treated effluent into Morrison Lake.

In his recommendations, Sturko registered concern about impacts to the lake's "genetically unique" population of sockeye salmon.

Company sued province for 'unfairness'

The government rejected the mine proposal in Sept. 2012. But Pacific Booker Metals sued the province for "procedural unfairness," since the EAO had concluded that the project would be safe.

The company won its case in Dec. 2013, and was given an opportunity to respond to the executive director's concerns.

But now that process is suspended again.

An email statement from the Ministry of Environment explained that "the potential effects related to the design and location of the tailings management facility of the Morrison project were very much part of what the Environmental Assessment Office's executive director identified in the 2012 recommendations. For that reason, it is prudent to suspend the Morrison environmental assessment."

There are 30 proposed mines currently in the environmental assessment process in British Columbia.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics, Environment

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