The Red Chris mine near Iskut is moving to full operation on one of the world's largest copper and gold deposits.

Mining activity picking up in B.C.

Red Chris begins full operation, others preparing to start despite low metal prices

The Red Chris copper and gold mine in northwestern B.C. is ramping up production after overcoming protests, declining metal prices and three reviews of its tailings facility.

Imperial Metals received its Mines Act permit for Red Chris June 19, after additional scrutiny of the open-pit mine’s construction in the wake of the August 2014 tailings dam breach at the company’s Mount Polley mine near Williams Lake.

That breach triggered independent reviews of nearly 100 mine tailings ponds with permits across the province, looking for design or operational weaknesses that indicate risk.

The Tahltan Nation commissioned its own assessment of Red Chris, located 18 km southeast of the Tahltan village of Iskut, before community members voted 87 per cent in favour of a benefits sharing agreement for the mine.

Powered by BC Hydro’s new northwest transmission line, the project will truck ore concentrate to the bulk shipping terminal at Stewart near the Alaska border.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said mines like Red Chris can operate profitably even in the current low-price market for copper, if their processes are efficient. Imperial Metals conducted drill tests showing higher-grade copper and gold deposits deep below the surface ore body.

Imperial has applied for a permit to reopen Mount Polley, using an empty pit to hold tailings as work continues to repair the dam and remediate the washed-out creek below. Bennett said inspectors are expected to make a decision on that permit in July.

Another mine expected to begin operation this summer is Brucejack, an underground gold mine 275 km northwest of Smithers. Underground mines produce less waste rock than open-pit operations, and Brucejack’s owner Pretivm plan to return some of the rock underground as cemented paste.

Another underground mine preparing for operation is Silvertip, an ore deposit near the Yukon border that was first identified in 1957. The province and the Kaska Dena First Nations signed an engagement agreement in 2012, determining a structure for resource permits for Silvertip and other projects covering millions of hectares on northern B.C.