Willa Mine in Southern British Columbia – Abandoned by its Owners?

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

(From the Red Mountain Residents Association) The Willa Mine, located south of Silverton, in the Kootenays region of British Columbia, which has been touted as a profitable investment by a series of different owners over the past 35 years, has been abandoned by its present owners, MX Gold Corporation. For two years the mine has been in a dangerous state of neglect. Huge rocks above the lower portal entrance are very unstable, and the security screening is down. The bridge over Aylwin Creek to the upper portal is disintegrating and the slope is severely eroded. Warning signs have fallen apart.

The Red Mountain Residents Association (RMRA) alerted the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources (MEMPR) to the current safety issues, and an on-site meeting was held on 20th June 2018. The senior Ministry staff in attendance agreed that there were serious safety concerns and promised immediate action to make the company deal with these issues, and ultimately undertake a more comprehensive reclamation plan. Now 5 months have passed from the date of MEMPR’s promise of swift action, but so far nothing has been done at the site to reduce risks.

It is now 2 years since MX Gold walked away from the Willa. In April of this year MX was attempting to unload the mine for $1 (one dollar). By contrast, its interests in the Magistral mining project (Mexico) were for sale for $4.5 million (US), and the Midas property in British Columbia for a purchase price of $1.6 million. This speaks volumes about the true value of the Willa site.

Even as MX has abandoned Willa and is divesting itself of its mining assets to focus on bitcoin mining, it has not closed its Willa permit. It is an all too familiar pattern. Since the 1980’s there has been a revolving door of companies owning the claim: BP/Rio Algom/Northair, Treminco, Orphan Boy Resources, Bethlehem International, Discovery Ventures, and currently MX Gold. Predictably, each junior mining promotes the site and persuades shareholders to invest; then the company abandons the project and leaves the site in an even worse state than the one before, playing out permits as long as possible to forestall any cleanup or reclamation enforcement.

The contrast between promotional hype and reality is stark. In 125 years no ore of any significance has been processed from the site. Recent exploration and reports have confirmed the paucity of the deposit. In MINFILE Record 2004 it states: ”the drilling in the peripheral areas of the Willa deposit was not successful in locating significant new zones of potentially economic mineralization.” Similarly, in the Amended Preliminary Economic Assessment Technical Report (Wayne M. Ash, P. Eng et al 2015/2016) it states that: “There are no Mineral Reserve estimates for the Property. (p.75) Mineral Resources that are not Mineral Reserves do not have demonstrated economic viability." (p.77)

Whatever the motives of the companies who have invested in this mine, the results are the same. Local residents have endured industrial scale noise and lights, site contamination, and concerns about contamination of creeks and domestic water sources. Residents have spent thousands of hours over three decades, monitoring these activities and keeping various Ministries apprised of their concerns.

At the moment, public safety is the most pressing concern. Open portals and damaged fencing are an invitation to curious explorers. The lower portal is large, easy to access, and the potential for falling rock is very high. Under these circumstances, one might expect MEMPR to act promptly before someone gets injured or killed. Reclamation of the site is another story, more complex, but it is equally incumbent on MEMPR to act.

As of January 2018 the Ministry has new powers regarding compliance and enforcement. In addition the government is currently looking at changes to the laws governing closure and clean-up of old mines, as well as regulations around bonds for reclamation. RMRA is hoping that such changes will enable the Willa site to be red-flagged as a waste of time and resources for citizens, government, and investors alike, and that it will be cleaned-up and closed once and for all.