Not Back To Normal At Mount Polley

By Roy L Hales

Screen-shot-2014-03-18-at-3.43.47-PM1Though Ministry of Environment staff report that water samples are very close to historical levels, business is not back to normal at Mount Polley.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip told the CBC, “The Mount Polley disaster is being viewed as a consequence of what happens when you simply abrogate your responsibilities.”

Imperial Mines received will be getting a written notice of this Thursday Morning. They had planned to start a second mine at Ruddock Creek, around 150 kilometers northeast of Kamloops. The provincial government is not stopping them.  Chief Judy WIlson of the Neskonlith band served them with an eviction notice.

Meanwhile the mining company continues to pump water out of Polley Lake, both down Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake and back into Wight and Springer Pits, two open pits on the mine.

There have been increasing calls for an independent investigation of the provincial government’s oversight of Mount Polley and the other 20 or so tailings ponds in BC.

Some question whether there is a conflict of interest involved.  Among other things Murray Edwards, the principal shareholder of Imperial Metals (which owns the Mount Polley Mine) organized a $1 million fundraiser for the Liberal government’s election last year. Six of the companies in which he is a major investor have contributed $482,857 over the years.

The Liberal government has cut back the number of mining sector inspections 56%, since it took office in 2002.

They have been aware of problems with the Mount Polley Tailings pond since 2011.

In a radio interview with Province columnist Mike Smith, BC’s Mining Minister, Bill Bennett, claimed inspection cut-backs did not extend to large mining projects like Mount Polley. Bennett said he found the insinuation that the Liberals would cut the mine a break, because of their political contributions, insulting. He did, however, acknowledge the need for an independent investigation of this matter.

“Any investigation into how this tailings pond dam collapse happened absolutely has to look at failures in government policies, procedures, regulations, and enforcement. For that to happen, government cannot be investigating itself,” said New Democrat leader John Horgan, noting the investigation should be broad enough that it can look back at policy and budget decisions going back to at least 2001 when the B.C. Liberals slashed inspections.

Adam Olsen, the Leader of BC’s Green party, added that there needs to be an independent investigation of:

(1) Establish a fully independent review process of the Mt. Polley Mine tailings pond disaster, and
(2) Independent engineering studies of all other tailings facilities in the province

He has started an online petition which you can access here.

The Wilderness Committee has also started a petition, which you can access here.

“Mount Polley Mine Corp are required to plan, complete and pay-for clean-up,” a Ministry spokesperson said.

The Wilderness Committee doubts this is possible, ” The clean-up cost is conservatively estimated at $200 million, not to mention the cost of compensating local businesses, residents and First Nations in the area. Of great concern is the fact that Imperial Metals, the company that owns and operates the mine, has just $15 million in “interruption of business” insurance—an amount far too low to address the serious environmental impacts of this incident.”

(I have forwarded a query about this to the Ministry and will post the answer.)

The Ministry has said, “Mount Polley Mine Corp. is required, as per the Pollution Abatement Order, to develop and implement an Action Plan for the Comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and initiate environmental monitoring.”

“The Pollution Abatement order also requires the company to undertake preliminary environmental impact assessment and submit an action plan by August 6, and to then undertake a comprehensive environmental impact assessment and submit a detailed action plan by August 15, 2014”

Though there have been questions, the water quality may be returning to normal.

“B.C. Ministry of Environment staff have taken daily water quality samples to assess the water for human consumption and aquatic life,” a spokesperson from the Ministry explained. “Thus far, the water quality samples have indicated that the water is within safe limits. All water quality samples were analysed for all heavy metals known to potentially be present in the tailings and tailings supernatant.”

A recent news release from the BC Sierra Club suggests this is misleading, because the “ largest amount of the dangerous heavy metals is contained in the sediments which buried Hazeltine Creek along several kilometers. Without a full clean up, heavy metals will enter the environment and the food chain and pose a long term threat to the web of life.”

In response, the spokesperson said,  ” MoE staff have also taken sediment samples. The results from sediment samples are expected Saturday. These samples take longer to test than water samples, but as soon as the results are available they will be posted publicly on the Ministry of Environment website at: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/eemp/incidents/2014/mount-polley.htm.

(An update posted to the site on Saturday stated there were two samples taken from the impact zone, near the mouth of Hazeltine creek,  and one from the undisturbed lake bottom. They exceed “B.C. guidelines for sediments and contaminated sites regulation standards for copper and iron and may pose adverse effects on aquatic life,” but “pose no human health risk.”)

“Until we complete our assessment of the tailings solids, it is not possible to say definitively what the potential is for contaminants to enter the food chain. Based on water sample results to date, we believe the risk to aquatic organisms is low,” the Ministry said.

There have also been questions arising from a First Nations report fish whose skin was peeling off, at both Six Mile and Lytton.

The Ministry believe this is unrelated to , “Based on water testing to date and what we know of the materials released from Mt Polley, what is being observed is not due to the tailings pond breach. If any dead salmon are found in the Fraser River it is most likely from temperature effects. “

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