Developments proposed for old mine sites

  • Jan. 15, 2010 2:00 p.m.

Two abandoned mine sites on Moresby Island are attracting attention for potential development. Jedway, on the south side of Skincuttle Inlet, has been out of commission for more than 40 years and Tasu, on the west coast outside of Gwaii Haanas, shut down 25 years ago, but two separate companies are hoping to create jobs and economic activity from these abandoned areas. Gil Marc Industries is a Skidegate-based business that hopes to start a mine remediation project at Jedway, which is located within Gwaii Haanas, although the site is actually not part of the park-reserve. Gilbert Pollard, the majority shareholder in the business, said the plan is to reprocess existing tailings at the mine site to extract magnetite and then to fill the old open pit with the waste, seal it and reforest the area. Mr. Pollard said the magnetite can be used to clean coal and purify water and it is also found in eye shadow, copier toner, specialty paints and more. He said around 2 million tonnes of the mineral can be extracted from the site, something he hopes to do by employing 35 to 40 people for nine months of the year over the next 20 years. Although he’s been working on this idea for three years, his application for a temporary permit and a license of occupation from the province has brought the project to the public’s attention. Mr. Pollard said his initial investigations led him to discover that his father’s trapline was in the area. Since his father passed away, the trapline is now his. He said people have had mixed reactions to his proposal.”First thing people think is I’m opening a mine in the middle of the park,” he said.But he said he will not be digging up any new material, just processing the tailings that have been contaminating the area for the last 40 years. He said that Gwaii Haanas has done a review of the marine life in the area and found shellfish contaminated by lead, arsenic and more due to the tailings. Then after speaking with people who once worked in the area, he found out there used to be a salmon creek, but three years into the mine’s operation, the salmon were gone.”Management told the workers not to eat anything within a kilometre radius,” he said. Mr. Pollard said extracting the magnetite is not a chemical process – it involves crushing and screening the rock. Bringing the processed material back up to the sealed pit will be part of the work. He plans to have a bunkhouse for employees and a plant the size of Skidegate’s small community hall at the site. As well, he hopes to make use of run-of-river power. As to whether the project will impact visitors to the remote wilderness area, he said he wants to work with the tourist industry by offering tours of the site. Mr. Pollard acknowledged there will be a lot of noise associated with the operation and issues of visibility. “With such a large operation you are going to see what is going on,” he said. Mr. Pollard has received letters of support from the hereditary chief of the area Roy Jones Jr., the Skidegate Band Council and MLA Gary Coons. He also received a feasibility study permit from the CHN. Several government agencies have asked for an extension on commenting on his tenure referral, so people have until March 30 to send comments to the ILMB. Beyond that he has to go through an environmental assessment process as well. He hopes to get his environmental consultants out this summer to do some work and to be operational by next year. Meanwhile, at Tasu, Smithers resident Ray Carrier has a plan to make use of already-drilled and blasted rock from the old mine. He said the rock is perfect for marine structures and jetties and can be crushed for good quality gravel. Mr. Carrier said coastal Alaska and Prince Rupert are both lacking in good aggregate and he thinks this source could provide a better option than shipping materials up from the Lower Mainland. The operation would include a barge loading facility and a conveyor system. He doesn’t see this as a huge risk to the environment, but since he was a provincial environmental regulator until he stepped out of that position five years ago, he said he is well aware of the rules and standards. As for employment, he said work would be seasonal and dependent on markets. He would likely move equipment in and create stockpiles and then people could load up as needed. “I’m all for keeping as much employment on the islands as possible,” he said, but it would depend on the nature of the contract work whether that would work out. At present, Mr. Carrier is seeking a license to occupy the crown land area from the province and said he’d have to proceed with requirements in the Mines Act after that. He said he has been in discussion with the CHN and hopes to speak further with them when he comes here in late January or early February. “I’m not sure what the CHN expectations are on this,” he said. He said he’s hoping for a simple “no objections,” but he’s looking for a way to further interact.