After 92 years of production, Teck Cominco’s Sullivan Mine closed on December 21, 2001. Throughout its
lifetime, the mine produced over $20 billion in lead, zinc, and silver metal and was home and heart to over
four generations of miners and their community in Kimberley, British Columbia.
Sullivan was an underground mine with a complex orebody, composed primarily of sulphide and iron sulphides.
The nature of the mine lends itself to acid rock drainage (ARD) and subsequent challenges including
metal leaching into surrounding waters. The long history of the mine, extending far beyond the early
days of environmental management such as we recognize today, left legacy issues to be addressed. And the
local town of Kimberley, founded in the 1930s as a company town, was faced with a real challenge to remain
sustainable after mine closure.
Teck Cominco has earned international recognition for its proactive reclamation
and mine closure work—both on the environmental side and in helping the
community rebrand itself. In fact, the company
hosted, along with the City of Kimberley and the
World Bank, the Sullivan Round Table, an international
gathering of experts and representatives of communities of interest to
examine the social, environmental, and economic legacy of the Sullivan and
other mine projects. The aim was to set the stage for the development of best
practices in sustainability.
Reclamation of Sullivan
The earliest programs to address environmental concerns at the Sullivan Mine
began in the 1960s, targeting waste discharge to watercourses and the reclamation
of waste disposal areas on land. Research into revegetation and soil cover
technology to turn disturbed land into productive sites began in 1972.
By the mid-1970s, the tailings disposal facilities were upgraded and a drainage
and effluent collection and treatment system was under design and construction.
The company pioneered the development of high-density sludge water
treatment and installed the first operating plant in the world to treat acidic
drainage water. By late that decade, the plant was commissioned, arresting the
flow of contaminated mine drainage to Mark Creek and tailings effluent to the
Cow and James creeks.
By the early 1990s, recognition of the finite life of the mine culminated in the
development of a reclamation and closure plan. The company ran vegetation
test plots, and worked to prevent negative impact from the tailings and waste
sites. In 1991, closure plans were submitted for public review, and the Sullivan
Mine Public Liaison Committee was formed. The closure plan addressed the
principal concerns including acid rock drainage, protection of watercourses,
reclamation of land, and protection of the public from potential safety hazards.
By 1995, the BC Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources issued a
reclamation amendment permit to the mine. However, two years later, the BC
Ministry of Environment issued its Contaminated Site Regulations, and the
Sullivan Mine had two ministries to work with in the closure and decommissioning
of the site.
“The Ministry of Environment’s process was much more directive,” said Bruce
Dawson,Teck Cominco who stayed on to oversee reclamation work after a longtime
employment at the mine.“It involved multiple stages of investigation, submission and approval of plans, and public review
Ultimately, the province became aware there were
two ministries vying over one process, and the decision
was made that the first ministry on the case
took priority over ‘core’ mining activities. However,
the Sullivan team had pre-done their work, on
ground water, soil contamination, and metal uptake
in vegetation, so were in a good position to undertake
the collection of information the Ministry of
Environment wanted. So, information was available
to meet the new Contaminated Site Regulations.
“We met the requirements of both ministries concurrently,”
explained Dawson. “For the Ministry of
Mines,we’ll place the final engineered soil cover this
year and will have met their requirements. For the
Ministry of Environment,we can’t meet the soil standards.
The Kimberley area soil doesn’t meet them
due to the presence of natural mineralization, and
the mine wastes exceed the standards. Instead, riskbased
standards were used to meet the Ministry of
Environment Remediation requirements.”
The ecological risks associated with the retired mine
require both aquatic and terrestrial assessments.The
aquatic assessment included surface and groundwater
sampling, algae and plant collection, fish tissue
sampling, insect collection, and food chain