Britannia reclamaition plan granted conditional approval By Amy Fendley The $800,000-a-year plan to clean-up the Britannia Mine, the largest point source polluter of heavy metals in North America since its close in 1974, has been given conditional approval by the province. The approval comes only three weeks after the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks issued a draft order requiring the owner of the former copper mine — Copper Beach Estates Ltd. — to begin collection and treatment of acid mine drainage at the site of the long-standing pollution problem. The reclamation plan will be funded by a landfill operation at the site. If Copper Beach Estates does not comply with this final order, the order may be expanded to include other potentially responsible parties, such as former operators of the site. Approval of the clean-up plan, although conditional, is essentially the starting gun. Unknown at the time, rocks in the open pit mine, once exposed to air and water, are susceptible to natural oxidation of sulphide minerals — a process which releases acid into ground water and dissolves metals contained in the surrounding rock and soil. In short, the acid rock drainage from the Britannia mine shafts which flow directly into Howe Sound is a toxic cocktail containing high levels of sulphate and metals, and is euthanizing the nearshore aquatic life and ecosystems of Britannia Creek and Howe Sound. ARD is the largest single environmental problem facing the mining industry today. At Britannia, the widespread exposed rock makes it impractical to eliminate or reduce ARD generation to an acceptable level. Which is why the preferred solution is to build and operate a water treatment plant which will collect and treat the ARD to an acceptable quality before discharge. The controversial landfill proposal would act to finance the operation of the treatment plant. The old mine pits would be used as depositories for industrial contaminated soils containing low levels of metals, and the landfill would act to seal off the mine pits and reduce the amount of acid mine drainage generated at the site. The province has said that the proposed landfill will not begin operation until it receives assurances that the plant is operating effectively and safely. The conditional approval will allow Copper Beach Estates to move forward with a plan to build and operate the effluent treatment plant. Once operation begins, a number of studies, assessments, and plans are to be submitted to various ministries for approval, including: an environmental effects and monitoring plan; a site hydrology and hydrogeology report; a plug test report — contemplating the possibility of using the mine as a reservoir and backing up an ARD flow behind a plug; as well as a diversion report. The information submitted will then be available to the public and open to comment before any approvals are granted. The total cost of the clean-up is estimated between $10 million and $20 million. Copper Beach Estates must post an initial $250,000 financial security bond before start-up. A surcharge of $6.75 per tonne of landfill material will ensure long-term operation of the treatment plant and closure on the landfill. "The surcharge will ensure we have money intended to cover the cost of operation of the effluent treatment plant," says Ray Robb, the section head in pollution prevention for the Lower Mainland Region. "It will be used to build a fund to continue its operation." Included in the proposal is a mechanism whereby Copper Beach Estates would turn the residential areas of Britannia Beach over to a local co-op. Price Waterhouse was recently appointed by the court to act as property managers for the Britannia site. A public consultation process, facilitated by the Fraser Basin Council, was undertaken in the Sea to Sky corridor to get public, stakeholder and local government input on the environmental, social and economic aspects of the pollution problem at the site. Copper Beach Estates has also agreed to fund a study to deal with concerns about the truck traffic on the highway during the plant’s non-winter operating months. The study will also be examine transportation options such as barging or using rail, to transport the contaminated soils to the site. The study will then be submitted to the Ministry of Transportation and Highways. The Britannia landfill proposal has drawn criticism from residents of Britannia Beach, Lions Bay, Furry Creek and West Vancouver who have doubts about the economic and technical viability of the project, as well as West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA Ted Nebbeling. The next deadline for submission of plans from Copper Beach Estates is December 31.