The Copper Mountain mine uses an electric cart system for its mine transport trucks
An expansion of the Copper Mountain mine near Princeton will not require a full environmental review, the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) has ruled.
Despite a plea from the Lower Similkameen Indian Band and Wildness Committee to subject the expansion to a full EAO review, the office recently ruled that the increase in land disturbance needed for the expansion falls below the threshold that would normally trigger a full EAO review. AND TO.
“In its submission, the Lower Similkameen Indian Band indicated that the extension could have potential effects on the Lower Similkameen Indian Band and its rights,” writes Elenore Arend, EAO executive director of assessment, in a Dec. 7 ruling.
“In considering Section 11(4)(b) of the Act, I am aware that if a project may have effects on indigenous nations and their rights under Section 35, this does not mean that the decision-maker must designate the project as subject to review.”
Mine expansions can be treated as a new project, requiring a full environmental review by the EAO if the expansion exceeds certain thresholds in terms of production and land disturbance.
While the proposed expansion of the Copper Mountain mine meets the production limit, the amount of additional ground disturbance does not.
“To automatically require an environmental assessment (EA)… a modification to an existing mineral mine must have a production capacity equal to or greater than 75,000 tonnes/year of mineral ore, and result in the disturbance of an area of land that was not previously permitted for disturbance and which is at least 50 percent of the land area that was previously permitted for disturbance in the existing project,” notes Arend.
“The designation report describes that the extension would have a production capacity of more than 75 thousand tons/year of mineral ore, but the increase in the disturbance area (over what is already permitted) represents an increase of 13.8 percent. This increase in the area of disturbance is slightly less than the 50 percent threshold.”
In the absence of a full EAO review, mine expansion will be regulated by the Major Mines Office, under the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation (EMLI) and the Ministry of the Environment.
“I believe the licensing process through the EMLI Major Mines Office with (Ministry of the Environment) can fairly, effectively and appropriately address the concerns raised by the Lower Similkameen Indian Band and the Nature Committee,” concludes Arend.
The Copper Mountain copper-gold mine near Princeton has operated intermittently since 1972, with open-pit mines on both sides of the Similkameen River.
In 1972, the Ingerbelle deposit on the west side of the river was explored, and then mining moved to the Copper Mountain deposit on the east side of the river in 1980.
The mine closed in 1996. When mining company Copper Mountain restarted the open-pit mine in 2011, it was the first new metals mine to open in BC in more than a decade.
But the Copper Mountain pit is expected to be depleted in about a decade, so Copper Mountain has requested a mine expansion that would see mining operations eventually move back across the river to the New Ingerbelle deposit. .
In June of this year, Copper Mountain was acquired by Hudbay Minerals Inc. (TSX, NYSE: HBM), which owns 75 percent. Japan's Mitsubishi Materials Corp. holds 25 percent.
The mine currently employs 465 people and has an annual payroll of US$53 million. The proposed mine expansion is expected to extend the mine life until 2047.