Huckleberry copper mine site south of Houston. It’s been closed since 2016. (Imperial Metals photo)

Huckleberry copper mine site south of Houston. It’s been closed since 2016. (Imperial Metals photo)

Imperial Metals places re-opening of Huckleberry mine on its ‘to do’ list

But first wants to restart operations at Mt. Polley in the Cariboo

Imperial Metals is raising the possibility of re-opening its Huckleberry open pit copper mine south of Houston that’s been closed since 2016 following a drop in the price for the metal.

But first, indicates company president Brian Kynoch, it’s focused on re-opening its other closed property, the Mount Polley open pit copper mine outside of Williams Lake, the scene of a major industrial disaster when its tailings pond failed in 2014, sending effluent pouring through into neighbouring watercourses and raising fears of significant environmental harm.

Since that failure, three engineers have been disciplined, including fines being levied against two of them, by their governing body for their respective roles in the design and ongoing inspection and maintenance of the tailings pond.

Imperial Metals was not formally sanctioned and re-opened the mine in 2016 only to close it in 2019 citing declining copper prices.

“It’s one at a time,” said Kynoch last week. “We want to get one mine up and running before we look at the other. It depends a bit on how that start up goes.”

Re-opening plans for both properties have been spurred along by the rising price of copper, he added.

“And secondly, I should add that re-opening in the middle of a pandemic would not have been the best idea but coming out of the pandemic, it is one step at a time,” Kynoch said.

Imperial Metals is already aware of one challenge — finding employees, a circumstance being faced nowadays by many businesses across the country.

“You have that [Coastal GasLink] natural gas pipeline up there, Site C and Trans Mountain,” said Kynoch. “That’s a lot of big projects in this province requiring people.”

Still, he predicted, those projects may be past the period of peak employment when Imperial does concentrate on the prospect of re-opening Huckleberry.

“A lot of the people on those projects are the same kind of people we would need for our mines,” Kynoch said.

He estimated a re-opened Huckleberry would require between 200 and 300 people.

“At the time of closing, a lot of our employees lived in Houston and Smithers. We would anticipate a lot of those people are now working at those other projects,” Kynoch said.

Imperial would also need to completely update all of the permits required to not only re-open a mine but to satisfy regulatory requirements during operations.

In addition to care and maintenance, the company has been drilling at the site to better define its ore body.

Kynoch’s comments follow the release of Imperial’s financial and other performances for the first quarter of 2002.

Work to reopen the Mt. Polley mine intensified in late 2021 with the company now targeting a re-opening this year.

It has lately been scouting for employees in and around Williams Lake through job fairs and other means.

In addition to its ownership of Mt. Polley and Huckleberry, Imperial has a 30 per cent stake in the Red Chris copper and gold mine located east of Hwy37 North near Iskut. It once held 100 per cent of Red Chris but sold 70 per cent to Australian-based Newcrest Mining in 2019.