HB Mines Tailings Facility

Waste Discharge Application

The RDCK is submitting an application to BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy for a Waste Discharge Approval which, if approved, will provide a short-term permit for dewatering the tailings pond as part of the larger HB Facility closure construction works. The RDCK expects to have the final application completed by December 31, 2019, and anticipates commencing dewatering in late spring of 2020. After assessing various options and consulting with the province, the current approach outlined in the preliminary application includes discharge of the tailings pond water via a temporary piping system directly to the Salmo River. Water quality will be compared against Ministry standards and a thorough environmental monitoring program and contingency plans will be in place.  

For more information about the HB Tailings Facility dewatering and the RDCK’s Waste Discharge Approval application, please contact:

Alayne Hamilton
HB Tailings Facility Technologist
PH: (250) 352-1519
Email:  AHamilton@rdck.bc.ca

Closure and Remediation Project

Summary

The RDCK owns and manages the HB Mine Tailings Storage Facility (Facility) south of Salmo, near the Central (Salmo) Landfill. The RDCK has been actively monitoring, assessing and improving the Facility since it was purchased in 1998.  After a near-collapse in 2012, the Facility remains at risk of failure which could have a significant impact to the environment, infrastructure, and property in the area.

The RDCK Board of Directors has approved moving forward with the passive closure of the Facility, in order to mitigate the risk of dam failure and reduce the long-term costs of maintaining and monitoring the Facility.

It is important that the closure and remediation project is completed according to schedule, as the risks and costs of the current situation are not sustainable. Continuing to manage the Facility in its current form would result in significantly higher long-term costs to the RDCK. On-going dam safety risks would also remain and the RDCK could incur very substantial costs should a dam failure occur.

To ensure the project proceeds according to the schedule recommended by the engineers, the RDCK is seeking electoral approval to borrow funds needed for the construction. An alternative approval process (AAP) is being used to obtain electoral approval to proceed.

The Facility is operated as part of Service 187, and is funded by taxpayers in the service area. While the RDCK will pursue all possible funding sources to offset the tax impact—including from Teck as a previous owner, and the Province of BC, as well as others—the full cost of borrowing is being assumed for the purposes of the AAP, so taxpayers understand what the maximum impact could be.

The planned closure and remediation of the Facility is the safest and lowest-cost option for the long-term management of the Facility.

Background

  • According to the Mining Association of British Columbia, “a tailings storage facility is a structure made up of (one or more dams) built for the purposes of storing the uneconomical ore (ground up rock, sand and silt) and water from the milling process.”
  • The HB Dam was initially constructed by Teck Cominco (Teck) to retain and store tailings from the nearby HB Mine, which Teck operated intermittently from 1955 to 1978.
  • In 1998, the RDCK acquired the HB Mine Tailings Storage Facility and land adjacent to the Central (Salmo) Landfill to be used as attenuation and buffer area for the landfill. Decommissioning of the tailings dam took place between 2002 and 2005, and was partially funded by Teck.
  • Since then, the RDCK has been engaged in regular monitoring, reporting and assessment of the Facility. This involves weekly inspections, bi-annual environmental monitoring, annual geotechnical reviews, annual reclamation reporting, annual updates to emergency and operations plans, and detailed dam safety reviews and Reclamation Plan updates every five years.
  • In 2012, the earth dam of the tailings pond nearly collapsed after heavy rains. A collapse would have had disastrous impacts on the nearby highway, downstream properties and the Salmo River, with clean-up costs estimated at up to $84 million. The RDCK declared a State of Local Emergency for the area, and embarked on immediate repairs and intensive monitoring.
  • In 2016, the Board approved moving forward with passive closure of the tailings Facility, which involves stabilization of the dam and remediation of the tailings area. SRK Consulting Inc. is in the process of completing the closure and remediation design. RDCK will host community and First Nations engagement sessions that will ensure all stakeholders have a chance to provide project feedback prior to finalizing the detailed design. The project design will also be reviewed by an independent review board and the provincial government prior to moving forward with permitting and construction.
  • While it is still unclear as to which party is responsible for the cost of closure and remediation, the RDCK is taking the lead on the project in order to: reduce the known risks of further dam failure, to improve environmental and public safety, reduce long-term cost to RDCK taxpayers, and reduce current and future liability for RDCK residents.
  • Based on a report and recommendations from SRK Consulting Inc., the cost of the proposed works is currently estimated at $3,933,000. RDCK is currently preparing an application to the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program which funds projects that reduce and/or remediate soil pollutants. Other applicable funding programs have, and will continue to be, investigated.
  • The Facility is operated as part of Service 187, and funded by taxpayers in the service area. While the RDCK will pursue all possible funding sources to offset the tax impact—including from the above-noted funders, Teck and the Province of BC— the full cost of borrowing is being assumed so taxpayers understand what the maximum impact could be.
  • Provincial regulations require that long-term borrowing initiatives be subject to a public approval process. The RDCK Board has directed staff to proceed with the Alternate Approval Process (AAP). The AAP allows the opinion of the public to be obtained at a lower short-term cost than conducting assent voting (also known as a referendum). The AAP took place in August 2018, and was successful.
  • The project was originally set to begin June 2019 and finish October 2019, if weather and other conditions are favourable. However, the project has now been delayed to 2020 (read more more about the delay below).

Updates and News

  • PROJECT DELAYED TO 2020: The Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources completed a review of the HB Closure and Remediation Preliminary Design Report in December 2018. In order to approve a Mines Act permit amendment, which will allow the RDCK to proceed with the closure project, the Ministry is requiring some additional work to support the geotechnical and environmental components of the design. It is expected that this additional design work will take several months to complete. In order to obtain all the necessary permits and have the project proceed during the dry summer season, the project will be delayed until June 2020. 

Project Description and Timeline

Pre-Construction Activities

  • Provincial government and independent review board Preliminary Design Report review
  • Environmental baseline assessments required to support permit and approval applications
  • Communities of Interest engagement sessions and open houses
  • Regulatory meetings
  • Completion of Detailed Design including construction drawings and specifications
  • Development of Environmental Management Plans
  • Permit and approval applications
  • Construction tendering

Construction Activities

The RDCK will take steps move the Facility to passive closure by eliminating ponded water behind the dam, by increasing dam stability, and containing the tailings to prevent transport. Steps include:

  • Developing a new spillway and eliminating the pond behind the dam. 
  • Covering the entire tailings area with 0.3-metre thick earthen cover.
  • Creating lined surface water conveyance channels to direct water over the tailings area.
  • Constructing a till beach upstream of the dam, and raising the dam’s filter layer. 
  • Expanding the toe berm at the bottom of the dam to improve seismic stability.           

Map and Photos

  • Check back here for a map and photos coming soon.

Note: Access to the Facility is restricted to protect health and safety. The public are not permitted to visit the Facility.

Cost and Taxation Impact

The Facility is operated as part of Service 187, and funded by taxpayers in the service area. Completing passive closure is the lowest cost option for long-term Facility management. Even doing nothing, and leaving the pond as-is, would require $1.2 million up-front to mitigate looming dam safety risks, with long-run costs totaling more than $8 million—and the environmental and public safety risks associated with operating the Facility in its current form would still remain.

While the RDCK will pursue all possible funding sources to offset the tax impact, the full cost of borrowing is being assumed for the purposes of the AAP so taxpayers understand what the maximum impact could be.

Based on borrowing for the full project amount of $3,933,000 over a 20-year term, the annual cost for interest and principal on the loan is $243,184. The maximum possible taxation for the construction and remediation works is shown as a residential rate of $0.0467 per $1,000 of assessment.

Alternative Approval Process (AAP)

The AAP for the HB Tailing Facility Remediation and Closure Works Loan Authorization Bylaw No. 2568, 2018, took place in August 2018, and was successful.

For more information about the alternative approval process (AAP), visit the Alternative Approval Process for Local Government (on the Province of BC website).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Other Resources

Contact

For more information about the HB Tailings Storage Facility Closure and Remediation project, please contact:

Alayne Hamilton
HB Tailings Storage Facility Technologist
Regional District of Central Kootenay
Box 590, 202 Lakeside Drive, Nelson, BC V1L 5R4
Phone: (250) 352-1519
Email: AHamilton@rdck.bc.ca

The content on this page was last updated December 5 2019 at 12:15 PM