Members of the Tahltan Nation are to vote next month on a comprehensive agreement providing employment and other economic benefits arising from the Red Chris copper and gold mine located on their traditional territory.
The balloting, from April 16-18 to be conducted in person, by phone or online, follows a series of community meetings held close to the mine’s location in Dease Lake and Iskut north on Hwy37 North and in Terrace and elsewhere.
Details of the proposed agreement, resulting from a prolonged period of negotiations, are being kept confidential, said Steve Robertson, a vice-president with mine owner Imperial Metals.
“It includes consideration for jobs, training, education, contracting opportunities and revenue sharing,” he said.
The proposed deal, which Robertson is calling an impacts benefit agreement, is being referred to by the Tahltan Central Council, the overall governing body of the Tahltan, as a co-management agreement.
Approval by the Tahltan would continue a series of similar agreements with companies who have operations within Tahltan traditional territory.
That list includes Calgary energy company AltaGas which spent $1 billion on three run-of-river hydroelectric projects along the Iskut River.
Power from those projects flows into BC Hydro’s Northwest Transmission Line.
The Tahltan also voted in favour of a benefits agreement tied to the power line crossing into Tahltan traditional territory.
The benefits agreement aside, the Tahltan still need to approve of the copper and gold mine’s tailings facility before the provincial government will issue Imperial a final permit paving the way for full production.
Earlier this year, the province gave Imperial a temporary permit allowing it to begin processing ore as a test of the mine’s facilities.
Imperial then began trucking out concentrate bearing copper and gold to the port at Stewart for eventual transport.
“It’s a real watershed moment for us. It’s been a very long road to production at Red Chris and we are already there,” said Steve Robertson of the first gold and copper shipments.
“We continue to work very closely with the Tahltan regarding this permit and plan to have community meetings in the Tahltan community sometime in April,” said Robertson.
“This will allow us to address details of our application with the Tahltan people and their consultants in advance of the issuance of the final Environment Management Act permit,” he said.
Some members of the Tahltan community have for years expressed worries about the environmental impact of the mine which has a capital cost of $643 million.
Those worries at times grew into a roadblock of the mine mounted by Tahltan and others.
One happened last summer after the failure of the tailings pond at another Imperial copper mine, Mount Polley in the Cariboo.
Imperial then agreed to pay for a tailings pond design review by a company chosen by the Tahltan Central Council.
Despite the review finding the soil quality under the Red Chris tailings facility to be a potential issue, the ministry of the environment said it is a far cry from Mount Polley where the underlying composition of its tailings pond was a factor in its failing.
“The overall design and location of the Red Chris tailings storage facility is quite different than the Mount Polley tailings storage facility,” said mines ministry official David Haslam.
“Red Chris has no lacustrine clay layer in the foundation and will be required to discharge from the tailings storage facility on an annual basis.”
At Mount Polley, the tailings pond was regularly built up to hold more discharge.
“It was determined by the Independent Expert Panel’s investigation that the tailings dam failed at Mount Polley because the strength and location of a layer of clay underneath the dam was not taken into account in its original design,” said Haslam.