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Rebound in mining attracts environmental firm to Thunder Bay

Ottawa’s BluMetric Environmental opening second Northern Ontario office
BluMetric 2
BluMetric Environmental landed a care-and-maintenance contract of a closed mine site, west of Thunder Bay (BluMetric photo).

Optimism and opportunity in northwestern Ontario’s mining sector have prompted an Ottawa-based environmental firm to set up shop in Thunder Bay.

BluMetric Environmental chose the first week of April to reveal at the Ontario Prospectors Exploration Showcase that it’s opening a Thunder Bay office to better cater to a new client and scout for project work.

The multi-faceted environmental solutions company just landed a care-and-maintenance job at a closed mine site, about an hour’s drive west of Thunder Bay. Work began on April 1.

Tim Beckenham, BluMetric’s senior director of consulting services, said establishing a northwest office just made sense to support this “fairly large project.”

Without disclosing the client or the property location, he said the mine has been closed for quite a while.

The site was remediated about 12 to 15 years ago. The care and maintenance stage is a relatively simple job.

Still, it represents the first contract of its type for BluMetric.

The company is taking care of all the site supervision, labour, material, equipment, and services for five years. That includes regular inspection of structures and facilities, maintaining the tailings pond and on-site pumping facilities, environmental monitoring, among other duties.

For BluMetric, the business prospects in the region these days – especially to work with junior mining firms –are too good to ignore.

“We see a lot happening in the northwest,” said Beckenham, a carryover from the brimming optimism they experienced at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada mining show in Toronto this spring.

“Mining’s obviously picking up. You see that at various conferences and the mood is good.

“We see existing operations (to support) in that area and we’ve already got some small projects on the go with them, also with some juniors in helping them through feasibility (stage) and moving projects to the operational phase.

"In short, with existing operations and potential for new mines coming on, we’d like to be part of that.”

Hydrogeology has been the company’s bread and butter work since 1976 but they also do dewatering, water and wastewater treatment systems, environmental impact assessments, environmental permitting, mine closure plans, and occupational health and safety.

The company is out to provide cradle-to-grave services in the mining life cycle.

“We’ve been involved in all phases of the lifecycle of the mine and that’s what exciting about some of the new projects. Now we’re really following it through to the care and maintenance portion of the project, and our clients like that.”

Mining occupies close to 40 per cent of their business.

“We find ourselves as a fairly unique solution to mining clients who are often under the gun to get something done, time is money,” said Beckenham.

And knowing the willingness of Indigenous people to participate in natural resource development, particularly on the environmental monitoring side, they are partnering on this new project with a First Nation-owned contractor from Atikokan.

“Partnership with First Nation firms is key, and when they have a lot of offer and have some really great services, that’s when it works really well," he said.

Their current Thunder Bay office consists of subletting a small space, but the plan is to establish a more prominent presence in the inner city by May 1, close to where many mining companies and suppliers are domiciled.

With two full-timers currently on the payroll, Thunder Bay will be their second office in Northern Ontario. The intention is to hire locally to support the local economy.

“I see that (staff complement) growing in the next six months,” said Beckenham.

“At this point in time we just have a few staff in town but the intent is to grow that, somewhat similar to what we did in Sudbury almost 10 years ago when we began to start to build the business in that region and established a permanent office.

“From there, we’ve seen 25 full-time employees in Sudbury. The vision is to get there for Thunder Bay. It won’t happen overnight but we have some good projects to start on and we see some great potential there.”

“We’d be most happy to grow to 25, 50 people,” added new company CEO Scott MacFabe.

BluMetric is in growth mode but MacFabe prefers not to speculate on whether that means opening more regional offices or acquiring similar firms in strategic markets.

“We lead by our clients’ needs and we go where they need us to go.”

The focus, he said, is on building lasting relationships with clients and demonstrating their ability to solve their problems.

“We have some really great demand from our mining clients that really appreciate what we do for them. It’s a very client-focussed business model and we like to keep it that way.”

The publicly-traded company has a staff of 170 scientists, engineers, industrial hygienists, environmental analysts and other support staff that work on North American and international projects.

Included in their portfolio of Northern Ontario projects is their involvement in the construction of the Pecors hydroelectric generating station at Serpent River, near Elliot Lake, and the building of the Teddy’s Falls hydroelectric plant on the Larder River, northeast of Englehart.