britannia beach 

By Amy Fendley The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks has issued a draft order requiring the owner of the former Britannia copper mine to begin collection and treatment of acid mine drainage at the site of a long-standing pollution problem on the coast of Howe Sound. Two draft permits for the Britannia site have also been issued: an effluent permit for treating acid mine drainage and a landfill permit that would allow contaminated soils to be disposed in the open pits at the mine site. The controversial landfill proposal would help to reduce the production of acid mine drainage as well as finance the operation of the treatment plant. The order requires Copper Beach Estates to reduce the production of acid mine drainage occurring from rainfall drainage, to conduct the necessary environmental impact studies of the landfill operation and post financial security to ensure that the requirements of the order will be carried out. This order follows recent changes to the Waste Management Act, and builds upon a 1993 order requiring submission of plans to treat the acid mine drainage. However, if the current owner of the Britannia site, Copper Beach Estates, does not comply with the final order, government may expand the order to include other potentially responsible parties, such as former operators of the site. Earlier this month West Vancouver police charged Tim Drummond, the owner of Copper Beach Estates, with theft and fraud. Police allege Drummond misappropriated $44,625 between 1996 and 1997, when he was running the operations of the West Vancouver Cubs and Scouts Christmas tree sales. 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. But 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. The Fraser Basin Council, a non-government agency committed to the sustainability of the Fraser Basin, which includes Howe Sound, has been the facilitator of a number of public information hearings regarding the landfill proposal. But despite efforts made by the FBC, Britannia Beach residents still face uncertainty regarding their homes. Price Waterhouse was recently court appointed to act as property managers for the Britannia site. "It’s just the same as it’s been the last 25 years," says Ron Fulber, the director of the Britannia Beach Community Association. "After all this talk with the Fraser Basin Council, Price Waterhouse has been brought in by the courts. They put up a sign as you enter our community that says: ‘No unauthorized access unless having written permission by Copper Beach Estates’, now I know that’s not illegal, but it’s immoral. The sign disappeared a few days ago, and it wasn’t me who took it down, so obviously other people are upset too. "People are scared about being evicted from their homes. It’s a real Payton Place, but we’re not out yet." The Britannia mine closed in 1974, and has since become the largest point source polluter of heavy metals in North America. Unknown at the time, rocks in the Britannia area, 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 flows directly into Howe Sound. The ARD contains high levels of sulphate and metals and acts as a toxic cocktail, euthanizing the nearshore aquatic life and ecosystems of Britannia Creek and Howe Sound. Acid rock drainage 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. 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 remediation order and permits are being developed by the industrial section, Pollution Prevention Program, Lower Mainland Regional Office. Ray Robb is the head of the industrial section and is the decision maker under the Waste Management Act for the permits and remediation order. "It has been difficult to regulate," says Robb. "It’s still a question that hasn’t been resolved yet. It should be the responsibility of all the permit holders who have been jointly responsible." The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks intends to make a decision regarding the issuance of a landfill permit and an effluent treatment plant discharge permit by Aug. 30. At the same time a remediation order will be issued to require Copper Beach Estates Ltd. to conduct the necessary studies and to construct and operate a treatment plant for the acid rock drainage. A technical rationale, draft remediation order, draft effluent permit, and draft landfill permit, have been prepared by BCMELP and have been posted to the Pollution Prevention and Remediation Website to allow for further public review. Public comment on the new draft order and permits is being sought before the documents are finalized. Comments should be sent to Robb by Aug. 30. www.env.gov.bc.ca/epd/epdnew/epdnew.html

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