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Several dams at old Britannia Mine to be removed

WATCH: Britannia Creek was poisoned by waste from an old copper mine. Reclamation began nearly 15 years ago, and as Linda Aylesworth reports, it has now hit a big milestone.

A decades-long cleanup effort of a historic B.C. mine is about to take a big step forward.

Crews are working to remove and remediate seven concrete dams near the old Britannia Mine.

“There’s a definite public safety risk associated with these dams,” says Bruce O’Neill, project director of Provincial Dam Interests.

“The foundation has been washed away from the tow, it’s in danger of toppling, [and] they were never designed for this type of seismic stability.”

In total, 10 dams were built to provide electricity to Britannia Mine and the adjacent townsite.

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Britannia was one of the largest copper mines in British Columbia for decades, but hasn’t been in operation since 1974. Acid run from the mine created pollution problems in the Howe Sound for years later.

“There weren’t too many people that wanted to touch this issue because the pollution problem was such a big scale,” said Mark Angelo, founder of BC Rivers Day.

“Waste rock from sulfur-bearing deposits…created a sulfuric acid. That in effect mixes with heavy metal and dissolves them and then carries them into the creek.”

But funding for a treatment plant was announced in 2001, and in the last decade cleanup has proceeded to the point where the area is almost 100 per cent free of toxic runoff.

“We’ve seen salmon return to the lower parts of the creek, we’re seeing resident fish start to recolonize the upper part of the creek, shellfish are once again recolonizing what was once a barren seabed,” says Angelo.

WATCH: Dams at old Britannia mine to be repaired

The repairing and removal of several dams is part of the process. O’Neill says they hope to cut a slot four metres wide and nine metres deep in many of them.

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“Eventually it will be a continuous stream through here,” he says.

It leaves Angelo optimistic for the long-term environmental health of the site.

“It just goes to show that if we take the right steps, nature can heal itself.”