Light at the end of the tunnel 

Britannia turning a corner as mine site remediation efforts continue

"Would you like a glass of drinking water?" the waitress asked as, I took a window seat in a small café at Britannia Beach.

I was slightly taken aback. As one of the most polluted land sites in North America Britannia Beach, a historical mining community near the head of Howe Sound, has not exactly been known for clean drinking water. But since funding became available for the Britannia Mine Remediation Project in May 2001 the reputation of the community has improved.

To get an idea of the scope of the cleanup project consider the level of work already completed. Although not directly connected with the drinking water supply, the water discharging from the mine is contaminated with copper and zinc. Much of the remediation work at the mine focuses on collecting, controlling and treating this water prior to discharging it into Howe Sound. Who will pay for the work has been one of the ongoing issues.

Thirty million dollars made available from companies that had mined Britannia since the 1930s is currently being spent on the remediation cleanup. An additional $45.9 million is available for remediation through the provincial government. The B.C. government is also looking at other options for funding.

"We intend to approach the federal government for a contribution," explains Brian Clarke, director of the Crown contaminated sites program in the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management. "The federal government operated the mine during both World Wars under a federal crown corporation and, we believe they should be making a contribution towards the remediation as well. That’s the main avenue we’ll be pursuing with respect to further funding."

Based on current technology the water treatment plant will have to run indefinitely. And the bottom line is to try and accomplish the cleanup in Britannia without dipping into public funds.

"We’ve recently made a decision to pursue a particular type of treatment plant to treat the acid rock drainage," Clarke continues. "We’re finalizing what our costs will be associated with that. The results will determine how much money in total needs to be spent."

Right now remediation efforts are concentrating on how much water can be stored in the mine and where sludge removed from the acid rock drainage can be stored.

A 25-year-old plug installed 400 metres into the mine from the 4100 portal was tested as part of the project.

"The plug is made of concrete and is about 27 feet thick from the face to the inside face," explains Peter Healy, a principle with SRK Consulting Canada Inc., a company in Vancouver that conducted hydrology and hydrogeology studies on the project.

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