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B.C. gives green light for Cariboo Gold mine near historic gold rush town

Cariboo Gold is a proposed underground gold mine in Wells owned by Osisko Development Corp
Overview of the village of Wells. (Image by Friends of Responsible Economic Development in Wells)

A B.C. environmental assessment certificate has been issued to Osisko Development Corp. for the Cariboo Gold project in Wells, near historic Barkerville, following a joint decision by provincial ministers.

George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, and Josie Osborne, Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, made their decision after considering the environmental assessment by B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO), said the province in a news release issued Tuesday, Oct. 10.

Cariboo Gold is a proposed underground gold mine in Wells, 80 km east of Quesnel, six from Barkerville. It was the first project entirely assessed under the new 2018 Environmental Assessment Act, according to the government. The project is expected to employ an average of 200 workers during construction, peaking at close to 300 workers, and is expected to employ almost 500 during operations.

Facing criticism from a concerned group of residents relating to the proposed location of the ore processing buildings, the approval comes with 22 legally binding conditions in the environmental assessment certificate, intended to prevent or reduce potential adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural and health effects from Cariboo Gold.

Concerns brought forward during the assessment included that the Cariboo Gold project could result in potential adverse effects on residents in Wells, First Nations access to land and the Barkerville woodland caribou herd.

The government said the project assessment involved extensive consultation with technical experts, First Nations, provincial agencies, local governments, a community advisory committee and the public, and resulted in the additional conditions.

“With these legally binding requirements, and Osisko Development Corp.’s project design features that will reduce Cariboo Gold’s impacts on the community of Wells and the environment, the ministers determined that significant adverse effects can be prevented or mitigated,” noted the news release.

Key requirements include:

* a plan to minimize impacts on the local community and tourism, through: a limit on the maximum allowable noise from the project; performing blasting only during the day; using vegetation to screen buildings and other facilities to minimize visual impacts for residents and visitors; limiting truck traffic near residential areas; strict policies around work camps, including to prevent gender-based violence and restrict use of tourist accommodations by workers; hiring 75 per cent of workers from the region (if qualified); a strategy developed with the District of Wells to mitigate pressures on recreation and tourism; and supporting community events to promote arts and culture. Osisko also must hold regular community meetings and ensure timely response to concerns;

* establishing a new, clean drinking water supply for the District of Wells;

* mitigation and monitoring measures to reduce emissions and maintain air quality;

* managing effects on the environment, in particular to mitigate impacts to wildlife, habitat and bodies of water, overseen by an independent environmental monitor;

* working with the Province to support remediation in the District of Wells and along the shore of Jack of Clubs Lake, contaminated by a previous mine’s tailings containing arsenic, cobalt, cadmium, lead and other contaminants; and

* a specific plan to minimize impacts to the Barkerville woodland caribou herd, including monitoring, mitigation measures and offsets for habitat disturbance.

The ministers also noted in their decision that Cariboo Gold will provide benefits to the province, the local community and First Nations. Local and First Nations employment and procurement also has the potential to advance reconciliation through employment and economic benefits.

Under the 2018 Environmental Assessment Act, First Nations participating in the process have the opportunity to provide consent or lack of consent for the project. All three Nations in whose territory project activities will occur participated in the environmental assessment. Lhtako Dené Nation and Williams Lake First Nation provided notices of consent, and Xatśūll First Nation advised the ministers that they did not object to the project.

West of Quesnel another gold and silver mine is in the works.

Blackwater Mine is currently under construction with first pour of gold and silver expected in 2024. It received approval in March of 2023 and was described at that time as the largest gold mine project in B.C.’s Cariboo region in more than a decade promises to create 825 direct full-time jobs per year during construction and 450 full-time jobs per year during its 22-year operating life.

Black Press Media Staff

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