A Mount Polley in Waiting – The Harper Creek Mine Should Not Open

(Ottawa) The planned Harper Creek Mine near Vavenby, British Columbia, could be another Mount Polley disaster and should be stopped, says MiningWatch Canada in its March 21 submission to the federal environmental assessment of the mine proposed project.

On Secwepemc territory, the huge low grade open pit copper mine proposed by Yellowhead Mining Corporation would rely on a massive tailings impoundment just above a very steep bedrock channel leading to Harper Creek and from there to the North Thompson River.

“Like Mount Polley, the company anticipates a constant ‘surplus water balance’ in the impoundment. Over 585 million tonnes of mine wastes and extra water will be held back from the channel by a dam constructed on a poorly defined glaciolacustrine layer. The dam hazard classification from the Canadian Dam Association is ‘Very High’,” and is a concern, says Ugo Lapointe, Canadian Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada.

“Unlike Mount Polley, however, the tailings will have significant acid generation and metal leaching potential, which again have been poorly defined and underestimated,” adds Lapointe.

After a careful review of the company Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the MiningWatch submission asserts:

  • Yellowhead Mining Corporation (YMI) has not designed and cannot safely manage its tailings impoundment to the “zero failure” standard recommended by the Mount Polley Expert Panel, and the tailings dam presents a very high risk of damages in case of failure. The BC Environmental Assessment Office is also concerned, and sent a letter to YMI on March 19 ordering them to redraft the tailings management section of their EIS.
  • The economics of the mine and the company are extremely marginal and add significantly to the threats to safety and environmental stewardship.
  • Despite the fact that the toxic wastes from the mine will have to be managed forever, the closure and post-closure plans make no provision for comprehensive, long-term, perpetual care of the site. The current financial bonding severely underestimates the reclamation costs for a site of this magnitude and the subsequent perpetual monitoring and treatment of the water.
  • An expert review by the Mining Drainage Assessment Group (MDAG) undertaken for MiningWatch expects that “Metal leaching and water contamination will be much worse than predicted by the Company,” and may threaten waters downstream from the mine.
  • Yellowhead Mining’s consultation with the affected Secwepemc First Nations has been improperly conducted and the mine does not have their consent.

In the course of undertaking their review, says Lapointe, “We heard many concerns about the very short time frame provided to study the EIS from affected First Nations and from our consultants. In some cases, relevant information was password-protected and could not be accessed in the time allowed. This is a serious limitation on a proper review of such a complicated mine proposal.”

The MiningWatch submission can be found here.

For more information, contact:

  • Ugo Lapointe, MiningWatch Canada (514) 708-0134
  • Joan Kuyek, Independent Consultant (613) 795-5710
  • For specific questions on water quality issues, please contact Dr. Kevin Morin, Minesite Drainage Assessment Group, [email protected] (604) 502-0700