Although the Blackwater Project is close to receiving all its major permits and has the support from First Nations south and north of the project, the proposed mine is currently “stalled,” according to MLA for Nechako Lakes John Rustad.
The MLA says that’s because a small area of New Gold’s proposed open pit gold and silver mine could impact mountain caribou habitat.
Rustad expressed his frustration with the project’s delay during a recent visit to Burns Lake.
“Construction won’t start this year because permits won’t be in place; who knows how long that’s gonna take,” he said. “The company would like to start construction next year.”
Located approximately 110 km southwest of Vanderhoof, the project’s original construction start date was 2015.
“The challenge will be, if that continuous to get delayed, both provincial and federal government talk about reviewing environmental assessments, so we could be looking at four or five years before the project gets off the ground,” added Rustad.
The proposed project is being designed to produce 60,000 tonnes per day of gold and silver ore over a 17-year mine life. Once developed, the Blackwater Project is expected to produce more gold than all other New Gold operations combined.
The mine expects to hire from 1000 to 1500 people during construction and 500 full-time workers to operate the mine.
Val Erickson, a spokesperson for the Blackwater Project, explained that the mine’s environmental assessment process is one that involves periodic suspensions to give New Gold time to respond to requests for additional information. The company voluntarily paused its environmental assessment in 2016 to incorporate new mitigation measures and feedback from local First Nation communities.
The company is now moving forward with environmental and permitting-related activities needed to finalize the provincial and federal environmental assessment technical review stage.
The board of directors of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) also expressed their frustration with the project’s delay last year.
“I’m really frustrated with where this is going and, to me, I’d like to hear why this hasn’t been pushed ahead quicker,” said Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen during an RDBN meeting last year. “We just want this environmental assessment going ahead.”
“After the Mount Polley failure it seems that New Gold has done so much more than it needed to address environmental issues,” he added, referring to Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley gold-and-copper mine dam failure that occurred in 2014. New Gold has changed a portion of its project design after considering recommendations from Mount Polley’s independent review panel.
Bill Miller, RDBN Chair, said last year that the Blackwater Project has had its environmental assessment process “way beyond the point.”
“They stepped back voluntary, they had conversations with First Nations on how to best approach the project, they have been upfront from the beginning, they have been fully engaged in the community and that’s what we should be demanding of every project that comes to our region,” said Miller.