This map shows the location of Barkerville Gold Mine Ltd.’s QR Mill and Bonanza Ledge Mine and proposed Cariboo Gold Project mine site near Wells, as well as the trucking route to take ore from the Cariboo Gold Project to the QR Mill. Photo courtesy of BGM

Barkerville Gold Mines hopes to initiate environmental review process for proposed underground mine near Wells

BGM asks for community input into value components at Wells Community Update meeting

Barkerville Gold Mines Ltd. (BGM) is getting close to being able to submit a detailed project description for its proposed Cariboo Gold Project (CGP) underground gold mine near Wells, triggering the formal environmental review process.

BGM held a community update meeting Tuesday, July 9 at the Wells Community Hall. There, about 40 people heard from Chris Pharness, BGM’s vice-president of sustainability and community relations, and the consultants who are working with BGM on its environmental assessment, and participants were also asked to provide their input for the proposed Cariboo Gold Project.

The CGP requires an Environmental Assessment Certificate from the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) before construction can start, and before BGM can apply for that certificate, the company must complete a variety of studies and seek input from Indigenous nations and stakeholders on items of importance to them, their communities and the environment, which are known as value components (VCs) in the EAO process. BGM also has to seek input on the potential effects of the project on VCs and how to avoid, reduce or manage negative effects of the project and how to improve positive effects of the project.

The information provided by stakeholders and Indigenous nations will be used to identify potential VCs, which will then be included in the document submitted to the EAO for review.

The proposed mine would be near the Jack O Clubs Lake, on the same site as the old Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine, which was formed in 1927.

“Our vision is to build a new mining company in B.C.’s historic Cariboo mining district that has a low environmental impact and a positive socio-economic return,” said Pharness. “In that statement, ‘low environmental impact,’ we’re kind of blessed in some ways, and in other ways, we’re challenged because this area historically has been mined for the last 120, 150 years or whatever it is, and so we’re dealing with a lot of disturbed sites.”

Pharness says this year, they will have four operating drills and will be drilling 80,000 metres in 2019 as they work to define the mineable resource.

BGM is proposing a new underground mine, where all of the crushing and concentrating would be underground.

Pharness presented the initial design concept for what the mine could look like.

“This is sort of our best guess at this, but this is also an opportunity for people in town to have some input on this,” he said.

There would be supporting buildings, like offices, a warehouse, a shop and storage, and they would build a camp for 145 people.

“It’s not going to be big stacks and towers,” said Pharness. “It will probably be a few metal buildings at best, our shops and things like that, because all the big processes will be underground.”

At the CGP, there would be a waste rock storage facility, a concentrator and a paste backfill plant, as well as a water management structure.

“All the water will be treated before it’s released back into the environment,” said Pharness.

Pharness explained the ore will be concentrated, through ore sorting and flotation, to reduce trucking costs and activity on the highways. The concentrated ore will be transported to BGM’s QR Mill on the existing roads, travelling 52 kilometres south on Highway 26, then 52 kilometres on the 500 Road. The mill and tailings storage will be at the QR site.

“It just means a lot less material moving down the highway and a lot less tailings generation at the QR,” Pharness says of the ore concentration. “Trucking to the QR also gives us the ability to not have a mill onsite and not store tailings in the Wells area.”

Initially, the work will be powered by diesel generators, but BGM is proposing a new 69kV transmission line from the Barlow substation near Quesnel to the proposed mine site.

To make all this work, BGM will need to complete upgrades at the QR Mill, including a dewatering plant to filter the tailings. Filtered tailings have about 95 per cent of the water removed, and they become like clay bricks and get stacked, explained Pharness.

“Any sort of discharge off of those piles will be treated before it’s released into the environment, so we also have a water treatment plant proposed for here too,” he said, adding they would build a new 40-person work camp here as well.

The proposed CGP has a 12-year mine life, and Pharness says it would create about 150 jobs during construction and about 300 full-time jobs during mining operations.

“We’re asking for people’s help so we can build a world-class project and a world-class mine, especially in this modern era,” said Pharness. “It’s a real showcase area because of Barkerville and that historic mining history, Wells because of the historical Gold Quartz and other mines like our mines and Mosquito Creek and all the placer mining that still goes on. It’s a real example of mining and sustainable mining in an area that’s been mining for over 100 years now, so when we’re approaching this project, we’re thinking that way … We’re not looking at it as a one-off where the deposit’s here and then it’s gone and we’re gone. We’re trying to look at it in a longer-term, more sustainable way.”

Consultants from the firm WSP are working with BGM to undertake the environmental assessment for the project.

BGM is in discussions with the regulator to determine whether the CGP will be a reviewable project under the new federal Impact Assessment Act legislation, and they are hoping to find out this month.

They are almost at the point of finalizing the Project Description, and once that is completed, it will be submitted to the B.C. EAO. That submission kicks off the environmental review process, and BGM is hoping to submit it in the next week to start the formal process.

In 2019 and 2020, they are hoping to enter the environmental assessment process, complete the studies, begin the provincial government review process and prepare permit applications. They are hoping if the project gets approved, to receive the permits and initiate construction in 2021 and 2022.

The mining and mineral processing would go on for 12 years from 2022 to 2034, and there would be progressive reclamation during that period.

From 2034 to 2036 would be the de-commissioning and full reclamation of the site.

Following the presentation, there was a question period.

Several questions were around the village’s capacity to handle hundreds of new people and what BGM can do to help increase capacity, particularly around water.

The District of Wells has been under water use restrictions since July 2, and residents and businesses have been asked to limit water use to essentials only and have been prohibited from using water sprinklers or watering their lawns and from washing their vehicles to help prevent water shortages.

“It’s not really up to us to expand that [water] infrastructure; it’s more of a District of Wells initiative,” said Pharness. “What we’ve always said is we would put in another well and filter system to help the town out. From Day 1, I sat down with the District of Wells and said ‘give me your five biggest infrastructure needs,’ and I never got a list. We’re still open to that.”

Julie Fowler of Island Mountain Arts brought up the fact that BGM has bought up two accommodations in town, and she asked if there is any intention to open it up to tourism.

BGM purchased the Hubs Motel at the end of May and will take possession Aug. 25.

“I think people were shocked when we bought the Hubs; there was no announcement,” said Pharness. “I apologize around the Hubs Motel, There should have been community consultation.”

Pharness says the Hubs will be staff housing, but it is not going to be a workers’ camp, and if they can know about tourism needs ahead of time, they can make blocks of rooms available for events such as the Island Mountain Arts Harp and Cello School or for schools coming into town to do Barkerville tours.

Hubs owner Dianne Andreessen told the crowd that they approached BGM when they decided to put the motel on the market.

“I know people are concerned about where are people going to go this year,” she said. “We’re doing our best to figure it out to make it work for the town. With one [motel] out of the picture, it does make the other accommodations more full more often. There are only a few weeks a year when everyone is full, and we need to figure that out.”

One woman brought up the issue of safety concerns with worker camps, and Pharness says they have clocked-door policy at their camp right now, and he expects there would be more security in their new camp. In the past, they have immediately let go any employee who has caused any problem in the community, he noted.

Concerns were also raised about the use of cyanide to extract the gold from ore — to which Pharness says most of the cyanide will be destroyed at the QR Mill — and about what kind of lasting legacy BGM will leave in the community if the company is just building workers’ camps at its sites, which could lead to a lack of connection with the community.

Pharness and BGM hosted a group of Elders from the Lhtako Dene First Nation for a site tour and presentation Wednesday, July 10, which was also a chance for them to identify their VCs. BGM is also engaging with the Xatśūll First Nation (Soda Creek Indian Band) for the project.

Once the B.C. EAO receives BGM’s application for the Cariboo Gold Project, the whole record of application will be available to the public on the EAO website at

READ MORE: Barkerville Gold Mines Ltd. throwing community Christmas party in Wells

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