My Take on Snow Lake - Dec. 21, 2018

Snow Lake Mine Mill a little closer to opening

The Snow Lake Mine has gone through several incarnations during its 72 year history … beginning initial production as the Nor-Acme, before closing out its 11-year run as the Britannia. Thirty-six years later, the mine was dewatered, revamped, deepened and brought back into production as the New Britannia. It operated another 11 years before it closed. Then in 2010, while on care and maintenance, New Brit’ was rechristened the Snow Lake Mine … the name it holds to this day.

The newest owner of the property, Hudbay Minerals, held their second information session on the proposed refurbishment and reopening of the Snow Lake Mine Mill on the evening of Dec. 6. The event took place between the hours of 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the Gordon Doak Gym at J.H. Kerr School and was attended by 80 or so interested citizens. This meeting was held to advise of progress made in respect to concerns raised and data collected since the last meeting held in May 2018.

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The meeting began with Hudbay’s director of health and safety and Aboriginal and external affairs Richard Trudeau making introductions of Hudbay and AECOM staff in attendance, as well as those who would address issues during the event and answer questions. They were: Hudbay project manager Arsalan Talebzadeh, Hudbay director of environment Jay Cooper, Hudbay senior process engineer Karl Hoover and AECOM senior scientist Cliff Samoiloff. Prior to getting underway, Trudeau advised that they would not entertain any questions on the recent closure announcement in respect to their Flin Flon operations

As with the last meeting, it was noted that after careful study Hudbay has decided to process gold/copper ore from the Lalor Mine at the Snow Lake Mine Mill. Since then, the company has been working to prove up the gold resource at Lalor. A new resource report will be released in the New Year, likely expanding the proven category and with it, Lalor’s mine life.

It was explained once more that in handling Lalor’s gold/copper ore, the milling process will differ from its past method at this mill. Existing infrastructure will be used as much as possible. However, in order to handle the Lalor ore, they will construct an ore loadout facility to store ore, a flotation building to allow for the separation of copper concentrate, and a lime silo outside the mill building.

The path for the tailings pipeline has changed slightly. Rather than pump directly to Anderson Tailings Impoundment Area (ATIA), the pipeline will trace the hydro corridor and will connect the Snow Lake Mill and the Stall Concentrator. Tailings will flow from the Snow Lake Mill to the Stall Concentrator (then on to the ATIA); copper concentrate will flow from the Stall Concentrator to the Snow Lake Mill, and return water will flow from Anderson TIA to the Snow Lake Mill.

To move the ore the 17 kilometres by road to the Snow Lake Mill, it will take approximately three ore trucks per hour, operating 12 (rather than 15) hours per day … this, over a narrow bridge that is rumoured to be 50 years old. Residents were advised at the last meeting that AECOM has conducted a traffic impact study and determined that no upgrades (includes bridge, traffic controls) will be required along the ore haul route. However, this was a major concern at that meeting. As a result Hudbay will incorporate mitigation measures, including decreased speed limits, passing restrictions and limiting trucking hours, to reduce the impact on the community. As well, an access road will be constructed parallel to the pipeline for daily inspections and maintenance. In addition, this will provide an supplementary route for car traffic in case of emergency. Both the company and government will monitor the haul closely.

Since the last meeting, the environmental assessment team completed two terrestrial field programs in the spring and fall of the year. They walked the entire length of the proposed pipeline corridor, where biologists looked for bird species and potential nesting areas, other wildlife and sensitive habitat.  Traditional knowledge holders on the team looked for medicinal plants and local wildlife. As well, heritage resources were screened and results were confirmed during field studies.

Water chemistry was also evaluated in ATIA and immediately downstream in Anderson Bay of Wekusko Lake. The team used a process of “benchtop testing” sample tailings to predict potential changes to the quality of water in, and discharged from, the ATIA. They predict only minor changes to water quality in the ATIA and there will be no additional water treatment required to maintain the high quality of discharge from the ATIA into Wekusko Lake. The discharge will continue to be monitored under federal standards. AECOM stated that potential for spills at Snow Creek will be “fully mitigated by engineered controls.”

The folks from AECOM further stated that they did air quality and noise dispersion modelling to predict the effect milling operations will have on the community and the adjacent Lalor camp. Their assessments factored in measured field data, historical data and engineered controls. The results showed that, even in the absence of engineered or operational controls, there would be no impact from dust and noise on the nearest permanent residence (Cedar Avenue) during construction and operation. This wasn’t the case during its New Britannia days, as people on Cedar Avenue were actually given a break on taxes to make up for dust and noise. Mind you, the mine as well as the mill was operating at that time. However, AECOM say that mitigation measures will be required for the nearby Lalor Camp. Enclosures and barriers (soundproofing), reduced speed limits, alternate backup alarms for vehicles and dust suppression will be incorporated.

The question-and-answer session that followed the meeting involved many of the points explained within the presentation; however, one of statement of interest resulted from a question about the cyanide produced in the process. Cyanide is destroyed by UV rays, but this only works in the summer when the ATIA is not covered with ice and snow. Hudbay will in turn integrate some sort of cyanide destruction process. Another question that was integral to the previous meeting was not broached during this one … that one was on the camp and whether or not Hudbay would set it up as a dormitory, where workers would have their rooms until they gave them up, rather than moving out and back in at the end and start of each set of shifts.

Following this second meeting, an environmental assessment report will be prepared. Hudbay will then file a notice of alteration for consideration by the province. If approved, the company’s environmental management system will apply to construction and operation, with an operational date likely in 2021.

Author’s note: My apologies for the dual spelling of Dale Schultz's name in last week's column.

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