Epcor, BC formally open Britannia mine treatment facility
Epcor and the British Columbia government marked World Environment Day, June 5, by officially opening the Britannia mine water treatment facility. The $15.5-million facility will end releases of heavy metals from one of North America's largest sources, preventing the release of thousands of tonnes of heavy metal contaminants into Howe Sound, including 166,000 kilograms of copper per year - the equivalent of 70 million pennies. During the treatment process, the acidity of the mine water will be neutralized as well before the effluent is discharged through a new outfall. The end result is a huge improvement to the marine environment in Howe Sound.
The newly functioning plant is treating an average of 12 million litres of water per day, using a high-density lime process to capture and precipitate heavy metals such as aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron, manganese, and zinc from the mine water in a chemically stable form. The facility is designed to capture and remove over 600,000 kgs of heavy metals annually. In addition, a micro-turbine driven by the mine's continual run-off will generate electricity for the plant, enhancing the project's overall level of sustainability.
Located on BC's Sea-to-Sky highway, 55 kilometres north of Vancouver, the facility not only incorporates state-of-the-art treatment technology, it represents a successful public-private partnership. Epcor financed the project and led an expert team during the design and construction of the facility. This team included Stantec, Lockerbie Stanley, Canadian Environmental and Metallurgical, and BioteQ. As part of its partnership agreement with the BC government, Epcor assumed the risks for construction, operations, maintenance and repair costs related to the plant, and will operate it for 20 years.
The agreement also required Epcor to have the facility completed within one year. The plant was treating water eight months after the agreement was signed, bringing the project to completion on time and on budget. The company is further required to meet a number of performance measures or face penalties. For example, Epcor must meet the treatment criteria for the removal of contaminants established by the province.
The overall net present value of the treatment facility is $27.2 million. Over the 20-year contract period, this project is expected to save BC taxpayers more than $10 million, compared to the cost if the facility been delivered solely by the province. BC contributes an annual operation fee based on the amount of water processed in accordance with environmental regulations.
Since August 2001, the BC government has committed $116.5 million to seek out, clean up and return to productive use a number of contaminated sites on Crown land. The province has earmarked an additional $47.2 million for work between 2007 and 2009.
The Britannia Mine was once the largest copper producer in the British Empire. During it 70 years of operations, five open pits and 80 kilometres of underground workings were excavated.