Kemess Underground Project granted environmental assessment approval
Environment Minister Mary Polak and Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett have issued an environmental assessment certificate to AuRico Metals Inc. for the Kemess Underground project, an underground copper-gold mine, which is located approximately 250 kilometres north of Smithers, and 430 kilometres northwest of Prince George in the Peace River Regional District.
Kemess Underground is the third project to be granted a certificate following a substituted environmental assessment. Substitution means that the Environmental Assessment Office conducts a single process that meets all federal and provincial requirements. The federal minister and provincial ministers make separate decisions on whether to approve the project based on the environmental assessment report prepared by the Environmental Assessment Office.
The ministers have issued the certificate with legally-enforceable conditions that have given them the confidence to conclude that the project will be constructed, operated and decommissioned in a way that ensures that no significant adverse effects are likely to occur. A record of the factors that the ministers considered in making their decision can be found in the Reasons for Ministers’ Decision at: https://projects.eao.gov.bc.ca/p/kemess-underground/docs?folder=239
There are 33 conditions that are part of the environmental assessment certificate. Design requirements are specified in the certified project description. Each of the conditions and the certified project description are legally-binding requirements that AuRico Metals Inc. must meet to be in compliance with the certificate and were developed following consultation and input from Aboriginal groups, government agencies, communities and the public.
The assessment of the Kemess Underground project also marks a successful collaboration between Tse Keh Nay and the Environmental Assessment Office. Through this collaboration, the Environmental Assessment Office and Tse Keh Nay jointly drafted the part of Assessment Report which describes collaboration and engagement with Tse Keh Nay, and came to general agreement on the conditions appropriate to propose for the environmental assessment certificate.
Key conditions for the project require AuRico Metals Inc. to:
- Establish an Environmental Monitoring Committee to share information and discuss topics of interest to Tse Keh Nay and government agencies.
- Monitor surface water and groundwater quality.
- Treat effluent from the tailings-storage facility until it is acceptable for release into the environment.
- Ensure selenium concentrations in a downstream creek do not increase as a result of the project.
- Develop a Wildlife Management and Monitoring Plan to address effects on caribou, birds, bats and alpine species.
In addition, AuRico Metals Inc. proposed a number of significant design changes prior to and during the environmental assessment, based on feedback received from Tse Keh Nay, local governments and the public:
- Develop the project as an underground mine to minimize production of waste rock and reduce the amount of new surface disturbance.
- Use the old Kemess South pit as the tailings-storage facility, eliminating the need to use Amazay Lake, which has high cultural and historical importance to Tse Keh Nay, and avoid development within the lake’s watershed.
- Avoid constructing a proposed road corridor along Upper El Condor Creek and Kemess Lake by using a tunnel to minimize landslide, avalanche and weather risks.
In addition to federal environmental assessment approval, AuRico Metals Inc. will require federal, provincial and local government permits to proceed. The Environmental Assessment Office will co-ordinate compliance management efforts with other government agencies to ensure that the office is satisfied that certificate conditions are met.
The $683.9-million project will produce approximately 24,650 tonnes of ore per day over a 13-year period and is approximately six kilometres north of the existing infrastructure from the Kemess South mine that operated from 1998-2011.
A substituted environmental assessment reduces duplication and increases efficiencies for everyone involved – the province’s businesses, communities, First Nations and governments alike – while maintaining a rigorous and thorough review that involves both federal and provincial experts. British Columbia remains the only jurisdiction to successfully implement substitution with the federal government.
British Columbia’s environmental assessment process offers significant opportunities for Aboriginal groups, government agencies and the public to influence the outcome of environmental assessments by providing input on the potential for environmental, economic, social, heritage and health effects from a proposed project.