Clean-up To Begin at Canada Mine Near Olympic Site
BRITANNIA BEACH, British Columbia British Columbia launched a $22 million project Thursday to clean the water flowing from a former mine that is one of North America's worst sources of heavy metal pollution.
The Britannia copper mine has been releasing 600 kg (1,320 pounds) of metals and acid into the Pacific Ocean each day ever since the massive facility about 55 km (35 miles) north of Vancouver closed in 1974 after seven decades of operation.
The province finalized an agreement with a unit of EPCOR Utilities Inc. to build and operate a water treatment facility that will remove the contaminants and power itself, in part, by using the flow of water from the mine.
The treatment facility is expected to be in operation by the end of 2005.
British Columbia struggled for years over how to stem pollution from the mine, and provincial officials acknowledge this project was spurred by the area's plans to host the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Britannia Beach is a community of about 100 homes located on the Sea to Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler -- the communities that will host most of the Olympic events.
"This project is about getting our environmental house in order on the Sea to Sky," John Les, the province's minister of economic development, told a ceremony near the mountainside mine site.
The province expects to the total clean-up effort at the mine site will cost C$70 million. Britannia was considered the largest copper mine in the British Empire in the 1920s and 1930s and produced about 50 million tons of ore.
Pam Tatterfield said the clean-up project has brought stability for local residents, because they could not buy their rental properties in the former company-owned town until the environmental issues were resolved.
"Without this treatment plant we would not be able to stay here," said Tatterfield, who has lived in Britannia Beach for 13 years.
The pollution was created by water leaking into the underground mine where it was acidified by mixing with sulfide rocks. The water then leached metal from the rock and carried it out of the mine.