Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) mine project: amendments to Schedule 2 of Metal Mining Effluent Regulations

A review of effects on the environment if mine tailings from the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) mine project are put in water bodies with fish.

The amendments to Schedule 2 of the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations (MMER) will authorize Seabridge Gold Inc. (the proponent) to use two waterbodies frequented by fish for mine waste disposal from the KSM Mine Project (the Project). In accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals, this regulatory initiative is exempt from the strategic environmental assessment as it was previously assessed in relation to a project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (the former Act).

The Project is a proposed copper, gold, silver, and molybdenum mine owned and operated by Seabridge Gold Inc. (the proponent), in the Kerr, Sulphurets and Mitchell Creek watersheds approximately 65 kilometres northwest of Stewart, British Columbia. The proponent proposes to use South Teigen Creek and North Treaty Creek, which are waters frequented by fish, to dispose of mine waste.

The Fisheries Act (the Act) prohibits the deposit of deleterious substances in waters frequented by fish, unless authorized by the Act or other federal legislation. The MMER may authorize the use of waters frequented by fish for mine waste disposal through amendments to the MMER to list them in Schedule 2 as tailings impoundment areas (TIAs). The adverse impact on fish habitat resulting from the amendments to the MMER will be offset by the implementation of a fish habitat compensation plan, as required by the MMER. The proponent must also submit an irrevocable letter of credit to cover the plan’s implementation costs, including all necessary remedial measures, if the plan’s purpose is not being achieved.

To demonstrate that the use of waters frequented by fish is the most appropriate option for mine waste disposal from environmental, technical and socio-economic perspectives, the proponent has prepared an assessment of alternatives for mine waste disposal for consideration by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). The assessment of alternatives was prepared in accordance with ECCC’s Guidelines for the Assessment of Alternatives for Mine Waste Disposal, and ECCC agrees with the conclusion that the preferred option protects and advances the public interest, as per the Cabinet Directive on Regulatory Management. This analysis takes into consideration concerns raised by local communities, Indigenous Peoples and stakeholders.

The amendments to the MMER will result in the loss of 10.6 hectares of fish habitat. However, this negative impact will be offset by the implementation of the fish habitat compensation plan, which is expected to create18.2 ha of fish habitat.

The amendments to the MMER will contribute to the FSDS’ long-term goal “Clean and healthy lakes and rivers support economic prosperity and the well-being of Canadians”. The MMER have strict limits on the quality of effluent that can be discharged by metal mines to ensure safe disposal of mining wastes, and require ongoing monitoring and inspection. The MMER also require the proponent to compensate the loss of fish habitat caused by the TIA. Therefore, this regulatory initiative will contribute to the following goals set out in the 2016-2019 FSDS:

  • pristine lakes and rivers
  • safe and healthy communities

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency concluded that the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on human health, when the implementation of mitigation measures is taken into account. Furthermore, the TIA is located in an isolated area; there are no permanent residents in the vicinity and no known drinking water sources that will be affected by the Project. While the KSM mining project will release an estimated 165 ktonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) per year, the TIA is not expected to result in significant GHG emissions or climate change impacts. The proponent has proposed site specific measures such as using fuel efficiency technologies to reduce GHG emissions and deal with the challenges resulting from climate change throughout the project life.

With respect to economic growth, the Project is expected to benefit Canadians, including local communities and the region, in the form of employment, business, and training opportunities. The proponent states that the Project is expected to employ approximately 1800 people over the five-year construction period, with direct and indirect jobs across Canada for more than 7200 people per year. During operation, the proponent estimates that the mine will employ more than 1000 people per year, with annual indirect jobs across Canada of more than 5600 people.

Measures to monitor the implementation of the fish habitat compensation plan will be taken by the proponent to ensure the plan’s objectives are achieved. Given that the MMER are regulations made pursuant to the Act, enforcement personnel would, when verifying compliance with the MMER, act in accordance with the Compliance and Enforcement Policy for the Habitat Protection and Pollution Prevention Provisions of the Fisheries Act. Verification of compliance with the regulations and the Act would include, among other inspection activities, site visits, sample analysis, review of fish habitat compensation plans and related reports associated with the amendments.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada will administer subsequent follow-up monitoring to verify the extent to which the plan’s purposes are being achieved. If the plan’s purpose is not being achieved, then the proponent must inform the Minister, and identify and implement all necessary remedial measures. The proponent must also meet the reporting requirements set out in the MMER. ECCC is the responsible authority for the administration and enforcement of the MMER.

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