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Endako Mines facing enviro rethink

Fraser Lake area First Nation leaks contamination document.

Nadleh Whut’en First Nation (NWFN), just east of Fraser Lake, released documents recently that show the B.C. ministry of environment is re-evaluating the impact Thompson Creek Metals’ Endako Mine is having on the area’s watershed.

The Endako molybdenum mine has been in operation since the early 1960s.

Nadleh Whut’en First Nation Chief Martin Louie said NWFN is concerned  the mine may be operating according to standards which would not be acceptable if the mine were to go through a fresh environmental application today.

A recent expansion to milling capacity at the mine leaves NWFN concerned that increased uptakes in fresh water from Francois Lake, combined with increased effluent discharge, could have a negative impact on the local watershed.

"We are concerned about the environment, and it seems like the government is allowing industry to pollute,” said Chief Louie. “We are the stewards of our lands and waters... We are extremely concerned that the Endako Mine is affecting our water and fresh water fish including salmon and the endangered Nechako White Sturgeon."

The Jan. 6, 2014 ministry document that effluent from the mine, although within B.C. environment permit levels, are having a measurable affect on aquatic life in Francois Lake, the Endako River, and smaller streams in the area of the mine site.

The same document goes on to say that authorized discharge levels from the Endako mine will be reconsidered under the mine’s environmental permit.

An earlier Oct. 22, 2013 document from a B.C. ministry of environment biologist warns that elevated levels of contaminant are having an effect on a bottom-feeding fish species, the prickly sculpin.

The report identifies the prickly sculpin as a ‘sentinel species’. Sentinel species are early warning creatures when it comes to detecting potential human hazards. Another sentinel creature, although not in its natural environment, would be the proverbial canary in a coal mine.

The same report also indicated that, “Chronic guidelines for the protection of aquatic life were exceeded in the Endako River in both reference and exposure areas for total aluminum, total cadmium and total iron. Federal and provincial drinking water guidelines were exceeded in both reference and exposure areas for colour, and total phosphorus, aluminum, cadmium, iron, manganese, mercury, and zinc.”

The Endako mining operations were identified in that report as being the likely source of contaminants.

These documents provoked NWFN to go public with its concerns over the mine’s continued operation.

“If it was a new mine it would be under higher, and better standards, but it seems that Endako is being allowed to operate using outdated practices, [and] old baseline information,” said Chief Louie. "This mine combined with all the other proposed developments in the region, including forestry and natural gas pipelines will put a lot of pressures on the local ecosystems.”

The B.C. ministry of environment has confirmed that it is currently re-evaluating permitted discharge limits at the Endako Mine under the mine’s Environmental Management Act permit.

According to comments made to the Vancouver Sun by David Bailey, director of environment for Thompson Creek Metals, the company agrees ongoing testing could include a reevaluation of permit levels.

But Bailey, the Vancouver Sun reported, said the company wants any regulatory changes to be made based on good science and further analysis.

The Endako mine was given permission to expand in early March 2012 (see Lakes District News March 14, 2012 Thirty-six Babine Forest Products workers employed by Endako Mine). The $600 million expansion was reported at the time to create about 160 new jobs, while doubling the mine’s milling capacity.

At the time, mining reserves were considered capable of sustaining the mine until approximately 2028, while creating $90 to $100 million per year in direct economic activity in the form of wages, purchases, and taxation.

Since then, molybdenum prices have stumbled. In August, 2012, Endako announced a temporary scaling back of operations which resulted in the temporary lay-off of 17 permanent employees, and 40 temporary workers.

Thompson Creek Metals also owns B.C.’s newest mine, the Mount Milligan gold and copper mine midway between Fort St. James and Mackenzie. About 20 of the employees laid off at Endako found employment at the Mount Milligan mine during its construction phase.