Environmental audit gives Cariboo placer gold miners failing grade by Gordon Hoekstra, Vancouver Sun

Environmental audit gives Cariboo placer gold miners failing grade

Report triggers turf war with provincial ministry of mines

By Gordon Hoekstra, Vancouver Sun December 27, 2012

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A B.C. Environment audit report, completed in May 2011, found that of 23 placer mining operations in the Cariboo, 74 per cent were not in compliance with their permits setting out a plan for mining and restoring the land after the mine operation was complete.

Nearly three-quarters of Cariboo gold miners failed a “clandestine” audit on environmental standards, according to documents released through a provincial freedom of information request.

The B.C. Environment audit report, completed in May 2011, found that of 23 placer mining operations in the Cariboo, 74 per cent were not in compliance with their permits setting out a plan for mining and restoring the land after the mine operation was complete.

The audit also found placer miners in central B.C. were working within a 10-metre setback from streams and rivers more than half the time.

Placer miners were also working in streams without authorization 43 per cent of the time. Waste water discharge into streams and ponds was observed at 30 per cent of the sites.

Dozens of placer operations are located in the Cariboo, largely east of Quesnel and Williams Lake, in a region famous for the 19th-century gold rush at Barkerville.

The region is also home to high-value salmon and trout fisheries on rivers such as the Quesnel, Cariboo, Cottonwood and Bowron.

The placer mines range from one-person operations to larger operations that employ dozens of people and use heavy equipment to extract gold from sand and gravel.

The Cariboo Gold Miners Association only recently learned about the audit, where site visits were carried out in 2010, and called it “clandestine.”

The findings were made public through a provincial freedom of information request released in October 2012 on the B.C. government’s open information website.

Cariboo Mining Association president Chris Winthers said placer miners are nervous they will face more red tape in an industry already heavily regulated.

“The ministry of environment is not concerned at all if we lose the placer mining industry. They’re putting much more value over a fish than they are a human and a human making a living, but it’s always been that way,” said Winthers.

Most placer miners are conscientious operators, he said.

The B.C. Environment audit ruffled the feathers of B.C. Ministry of Mines and Energy inspectors, who said environment ministry staff were overstepping their jurisdiction.

Cariboo North Independent MLA Bob Simpson said the province simply has to come up with a compliance and enforcement system that makes sense.

Turf wars between government departments are not productive, said Simpson, whose riding encompasses many of the placer mines in the Cariboo.

Rodger Stewart, director of resource management in the Cariboo, said jurisdictional issues have not been completely resolved, but the two ministries are now trying to work closer together.

The ministries are planning to launch joint inspections next spring.

Stewart formerly worked out of the environment ministry, but he and his staff who conducted the placer mining audit are now housed in the Ministry of Forestry, Lands and Natural Resources.

Work is also underway to create clearer environmental protection standards for placer miners, said Stewart.

“Certainly we have to recognize we are working with a sector that tends to be a mom-and-pop operation — not necessarily as sophisticated as a major (company),” he said.

Although Stewart says the two ministries are now co-operating, one of the province’s senior mines inspectors had earlier told Stewart and his staff they were breaking the law by inspecting the placer mining operations.

Other than an inspector, only people authorized by the mine manager are permitted to enter a mine, said senior mines inspector Bruce Hupman in an email dated Aug. 12, 2011.

“I am concerned that you continue to place yourself in situations where you are at risk of injury and instruct you to cease entering a mine site at once unless you are authorized by the mine manager to do so,” Hupman said in the email to Stewart.

In a seven-page report responding to the B.C. environment audit, the Ministry of Energy and Mines also downplayed the environment ministry’s findings, saying there was “limited value” in the conclusions and recommendations.

The environment staff formed opinions “without conducting file reviews, consulting with a mine inspector or the Mines Act, seeking advice on mining methods, having mine site reclamation experience and others,” said the energy and mines report dated July 26, 2011.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines declined a request for an interview.

An estimated 75 to 100 placer mines operate in B.C., employing about 90 to 130 people, according to the energy and mines ministry.

Revenues from the gold sales is estimated to range from $22 million to $30 million annually, with mineral taxes to the province pegged at $110,000 to $150,000.

ghoekstra@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/Environmental+audit+gives+Cariboo+placer+gold+miners+failing+grade/7746270/story.html#ixzz2GHX8GXbm

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Posted on December 27, 2012, in Mining News & Views. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Gordon Hoekstra begins his article with the following disinformation: “Nearly three-quarters of Cariboo gold miners failed a “clandestine” audit on environmental standards, according to documents released through a provincial freedom of information request.”

    Why Gordon? Is this the Vancouver Sun’s way of creating controversy via false statements? Shame on you.

    If you were being honest and forthright you would have clearly stated that “Nearly three-quarters of” THE 23 SITES which were illegally spied upon were found to be not in full compliance. There are a lot more than 23 mine sites here in the Cariboo Gordon. You are making it appear that the vast majority of placers miners in the Cariboo are responsible for damaging the environment which is nothing more than fear mongering and disinformation on your part.

    You owe the Cariboo Mining Association and the Ministry of Energy & Mines an apology for such shoddy reporting.

  2. We as placer miners have the opportunity to defend ourselves , this report used data from placer mining as far back as the 1940’s.Some people would just as soon let someone else correct this BAD information or hid in the corner and pretend this report did not exist When MOE did this report they themselves were not following the rules. We better be able to comply with beefed enforcment because we are now going to have much more scrutiny this mining season! Chris

  3. I still maintain that this whole phoney issue and calculated audit is mainly designed to cover up the fact that Federal Fisheries are interfering in areas that are out of their mandate and jurisdiction and that all this bs about the placer miners is just another ruse to cover up the fact that they are not doing their job in terms of preventing all the large corporate fish farms from destroying the wild salmon industry. Because of their own ineptitude and political machinations and lack of credibility they figure they’ll divert the public’s attention on to the small placer miners and deflect criticism away from their own screw ups regarding the fish farms that are destroying the west coast fishing industry.

  4. It is interesting to note how the spring run offs make the creeks run brown every year and the fraser river runs brown year round but god help any miner if they dewater into a creek or river for they may harm the fish? Doesn’t make sense. If silty runoff in a river or creek kills fish then there shouldn’t be any fish in any creek or river because of the effects of mother nature herself during the spring melt and run off. There are hundreds of placer operations in BC and I believe that this report was based off of complaints that Stewart had heard about and decided to use as a basis for their report. If there was one thing left out of the report is the history…In the Cariboo gold rush and in the 1930’s there were no regulations on working in the creek. The water ways were saturated with sediment from placer mining. No harm has ever been shown in history as far as I can tell and from what my dad could tell from when he lived and worked the Yanks Peak gold fields in the 1930’s. However, I can tell from recent studies and news releases that the salmon runs have become significantly less and I believe that the issue lays in the oceans and not the inland water ways! If fish were so sensitive to sediment in our inland waterways, they would have become extinct eons ago!

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