Mount Milligan passes final regulatory hurdle

Thompson Creek Metals has received final approval of their fish habitat compensation plan from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans

The upper Rainbow Overwintering Pond

The upper Rainbow Overwintering Pond

Thompson Creek Metals has received final approval of their fish habitat compensation plan from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

“It was the last major approval that we needed to get in order to operate the mine,” said Andrew Chewter, environmental superintendent for Mount Milligan.

The Jan. 14 approval specifically authorizes the mine to put tailings materials into their storage facility beginning in the third quarter of 2013.

This was actually the approval for the second part of their fish habitat compensation plan.

The plan falls under two different regulations: the Fisheries Act and Metal Mine Effluent Regulation, both of which would go through the DFO.

The first part of the habitat compensation plan looked at the habitat impacted by the mine but outside the tailings dam, and the second part, which was just approved, looked specifically at fish habitat inside the dam.

The policy for mine approvals requires a “no net loss” of fish habitat approach – meaning the streams that are impacted by the mine have to be studied, categorized and the fish species catalogued – in order for a plan to be made to create or enhance equal or greater amounts of habitat.

The plans took two to three years to complete, from data collection to the final documents, each over 200 pages long. Documents included back-and-forth questions and responses from First Nations consultations by the DFO, which lead to revisions and adjustments.

Chewter described the group working on the plans as “really diverse” from a variety of disciplines, including biology, environmental engineering and forestry.

“The fish habitat is really, really interesting work, and everyone in our department enjoys working on it,” he said.

So far, an overwintering pond on upper Rainbow Creek has been built, and more work is planned this summer for mid-Rainbow Creek, including the placement of large woody debris structures and boulder clusters.

With the most recent approval, construction of a lower Rainbow Creek overwintering and rearing pond can now take place beginning in February. Construction of another site with two ponds will begin in 2014.

The woody debris and boulders give fish opportunities to rest, hide from predators and stake territory and allow for different sediment types to develop in the stream.

Overwintering ponds allow for fish to have safe spots to survive under the ice through the winter, and provide different types of habitat for rearing young fish.

All of the ponds and habitat enhancement are within about a 10-kilometre radius of the Mount Milligan mine.

Other aspects of the environmental team’s work includes replacing culverts installed before the Forest Practices Code came into effect, which prevented fish from moving along the creeks.

Eight problem culverts have been identified and, so far, three have been replaced, with plans to do the rest over the next two years.

The bridge and culvert work will occur within about a 25-kilometre radius of the mine site.

The major habitat construction work should be done by 2014. Effectiveness monitoring will ensure the plan is working properly to go on for a further 10 years.

“It’s an important step and we’re really pleased to have completed the process,” said Jocelyn Fraser, director of corporate responsibility for Thompson Creek Metals.

Fraser said with only about 22 weeks left to complete the construction, things are quickly taking shape.

With the concrete and steel work essentially done, and much of the equipment in place, part of the big job to finish will involve building the engines and doing the mechanical work to become operational.

“It’s getting exciting,” said Fraser.

Administration offices should be done by next month, and more than half of the operational staff has been hired.

The mine is still looking to fill around 150 positions, which they are aggressively recruiting for.

“There’s not that many places where you get to come to work on a greenfield project,” said Fraser, referring to the fact the mine will be brand new, and they hope this helps attract skilled personnel needed.

While recruitment was focussed on the local area earlier on, the company has been broadening their scope for the skilled workers needed to complete their team, with all positions posted on their website.