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Britannia mine cleanup agreement reached



Widely condemned as one of the worst toxic polluters on the continent, government and industry will working together to clean up the Britannia mine site

After decades of passing the buck and four months of debate between "responsible parties," a cost-sharing agreement has been reached between the provincial government, and both the former and current owners of the Britannia mine site – widely recognized as the single largest point source of metals pollution in North America.

"This landmark agreement means clean water will again flow in Britannia Creek and into Howe Sound," said Environment, Lands and Parks Minister Ian Waddell in an April 12 release.

"The Britannia mine has been a source of acid drainage for far too long. Under legislation enacted by this ministry in 1997, parties with corporate links to past mine operators and the current landowner have voluntarily negotiated agreements to fix this problem that has been polluting our environment so badly."

The cleanup plan is expected to cost between $60 million and $75 million to implement. A list of "potentially responsible parties," including previous owners and the provincial and federal governments, will pick up $30 million of the cleanup tab. Although the mine was owned by three different companies in its 70 years of operation – the Britannia Mining and Smelting Company Ltd. (1902 to 1958); How Sound Corp. (1958 to 1963) and Anaconda Mining Company (1963 to 1974) – none of the former owners exist as the same corporate entities. For that reason, the long list of potentially responsible parties included parent companies, renamed or associated companies, and subsidiaries.

Anaconda has ties with Canzinco Ltd., Ivaco/Arrowhead Metals Inc., and the Atlantic Richfield Company (Arco), which are included on the list. Canzinco, eager to share the load, argued that the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) was also responsible as the legal successor of Howe Sound Corp. Arco also made a motion to include three of Alcoa’s Delaware subsidiaries.

How the $30 million worth of responsibilities will be divided among the companies and governments has yet to be announced.

Copper Beach Estates Ltd. – a Vancouver-based real estate developer and the owner of the property since 1979 – will contribute $5 million towards the cleanup. Taxpayers will likely be on the hook for the remainder of the costs.

An application has been made by The Fraser Basin Council to the Canada-B.C. infrastructure program to finance up to two-thirds of the cost of building a $12 million water treatment site to neutralize acidic effluent from the mine site. The remaining one-third will be provided by "potentially responsible" parties’ contributions.

Copper Beach will be responsible for co-managing the water treatment plant along with the provincial government, contributing an estimated $1.7 million a year towards maintenance and operating costs in perpetuity.