An environmental-mining catastrophe in B.C. sparked discussion here during the Rainy Lake Conservancy’s (RLC) annual general meeting on Sunday at La Place Rendez-Vous.
There was a breach in a tailings pond dam at a copper and gold mine owned by Imperial Metals Corp. near Likely, B.C. last week, which released 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of containments into several lakes.
The catastrophic event left those in attendance with questions pertaining to a local mining initiative for guest speaker Kyle Stanfield, New Gold’s director of environment and sustainability.
Stanfield was invited to speak to the group by conservancy chair Dale Callaghan, who noted that though most conservancy members were on board with the project, they wanted to be sure that similar circumstance wouldn’t impact the Rainy River District.
“There is no question that our district needs jobs, and most of our group supports mining and other uses of the watershed,” he said.
“But, we just want to make sure it is done in a sustainable and good engineering way,” noted Stanfield.
Following a short presentation which outlined the proposed New Gold mine and its predicted environmental footprint, Callaghan began to ask Stanfield questions previously formulated by members.
“We are starting to see more extreme weather events. Can you assure us that the engineering parameters for rainfall per hour or flooding conditions are up to date and used in your design?” he questioned.
Stanfield was quick to reinforce that environmental concerns posed by those in attendance were in line with those of New Gold employees and their investors.
He noted that though no one is certain as to what happened at the Imperial Metals mine, he was confident that the mine here would not suffer a similar fate despite recent changes to weather patterns.
“There will be a tailings dam here, but we have put such a huge focus on engineering design,” said Stanfield.
“What makes us different is that we have a very rigourous program of design and we have to make sure that we operate according to that,” he continued.
“Regulation has changed over the past 15 years and we will have some of the strictest limits in Canada for our tailings water before it is of quality to drain down the Pinewood river,” added Stanfield.
“The main difference between us and what you have read is that they have a tailings dam that was obviously operated incorrectly and not operated within design capacity—that won’t be the case. We’ve always taken an responsible development approach,” he said.
Stanfield proceeded to outline that the tailings dam would be a “low profile” dam constructed of rock and “strong material” with an infliction point sitting at a maximum of 26 meters.
“During the operation we have to be sure that we maintain enough freeboard within the tailings pond to be able to make be able to contain a probable flood event,” he noted.
“We are making sure that not only tailings dam is operated properly but planning for future operations and raising the dam incrementally during operations,” Stanfield remarked.
“If we see a situation arise where we think we need to raise it we will,” he concluded.
Non-member Jim Yought, who attended the event seeking information regarding the mines potential impact on Rainy Lake, began to challenge the proposed plan.
“You said you are working on free board so you have enough extra capacity to maintain a probable heavy rain event, but what about an improbable one?” he posed, citing recent flooding within the district.
Stanfield rebutted the inquiry, noting that engineers have made a number revisions to accommodate local conditions and minimize the environmental footprint.
“What we have learned in 10 years is that improbable events are happening,” Stanfield reputed.
“But putting it at head-water as opposed to mid-water is a big mitigation step for us,” he added, citing that an abundance of clay in the area also serves as beneficial in preventing erosion and covering acid rock.
“That is a big eliminator for us because we are not going to have to deal with water that is coming down—we can plan for what’s going to fall on it and not worry about what is going to flow into it,” noted Stanfield.
“I believe that was one of the main problems with Mount Polly ... and I believe that we have looked at the improbable as a result of what is going on,” he stressed.
The presentation was preceded by the organization’s annual board report, which detailed a number of developments for the conservancy and the adoption of By-Law #6 which induced minimal revisions to the RLC’s bylaws as required by the Government of Canada.
The significant changes said to benefit members included reasonable restraints on the discretion of board members to remove a member and provided that five percent of members may requisition a special meeting of the RLC—down from the 20 percent previously require—among others.
In related news, minor changes to the board for the upcoming year were made including Patrick LeMaistre and Joanna Loney stepping down, and Kim Roy and Ruth Miller taking their places.
Additionally, Carolyn Wallis was voted in as the new conservancy president, with Stephen Challis stepping down from the prestigious role.
“The experience has been really rewarding, truthfully, because of the people I’ve met and worked with,” Challis said of his five year term.
“The current leaders are the founding generation so we have strong leadership, but we need to draw the next generation.”
“That will be one of my main focuses now as past-president, to draw in local community to work for the conservancy—that is a step forward.”
If you are interested in getting involved with or becoming a member of the RLC call 807-274-4684 or visit www.rainylakeconservancy.org