An environmental assessment certificate has been issued 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 province has issued the certificate with legally-enforceable conditions. 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
“These positive decisions are the culmination of a comprehensive process which began in 2014, and I would like to thank the many people who worked tirelessly to achieve this successful outcome,” said Chris Richter, President and CEO of AuRico, in a news release. “We would not be where we are today if it were not for the hard work of the AuRico Metals team and our consultants, along with the extensive efforts and close cooperation from our First Nations partners, the EAO, and CEAA. The Tsay Keh Dene, Kwadacha, and Takla Lake First Nations, collectively Tse Keh Nay, provided letters of support to federal and provincial ministers for environmental assessment approval and we are proud to have their support.”
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 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.
“The Kemess Underground Project presents an attractive development opportunity given its strong economics – supported by existing infrastructure, large scale, good jurisdiction, and advanced stage,” said Richter. “Today’s environmental approval represents a significant milestone for the Project, and we are excited about the opportunity to continue to advance the Project to the benefit of all stakeholders.”
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.