tailings pond

Mount Polley Mine Disaster Two Years In: ‘It’s Worse Than It’s Ever Been’

Thursday marks two years since the Mount Polley mine disaster in Likely, B.C. where a tailings pond collapse spilled 25 million cubic metres of mining waste, laced with contaminants like arsenic, lead and copper, into the once-pristine Quesnel Lake, a major salmon spawning ground and source of drinking water.

To mark the occasion, B.C. Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett issued a press release praising the government’s world-class mining standards, saying the province is now “at the forefront of global standards for the safety of [tailings storage facilities] at mines operating in this province.”

We’ve taken a leadership position and have done all we can to ensure such a failure can never happen in B.C. again,” Bennett said.

B.C. Ignores Best Practices, Allows Mount Polley-style Tailings Dams on Alaska Border, New Report Finds

New mines proposed for north-west B.C., close to the Alaska border, will have tailings dams similar to the one that collapsed at Mount Polley, despite recommendations of an expert panel that companies use other methods of storing waste, says an analysis written for a coalition of Canadian and U.S non-governmental organizations.
The new analysis, Post-Mount Polley: Tailings Dam Safety in British Columbia, underlines the need for the province to immediately bring in firmer legislation and says it is time B.C. lived up to commitments to make the mining industry safer.
The expert panel report on the 2014 Mount Polley disaster — which sent 25 million cubic metres of slurry and waste water flooding into lakes and rivers surrounding the mine — recommended best available practices and technology be used for tailings storage, including dry stack technology where appropriate.
However, four major B.C. mines in the Alaska/B.C transboundary region are failing to implement those recommendations, meaning a similar dam breach could threaten the area’s major salmon rivers, says the report released Tuesday.

No Fines, No Charges Laid for Mount Polley Mine Disaster

No charges will be laid against the Mount Polley Mine Corporation, owned by Imperial Metals, for the collapse of a tailings impoundment on August 4, 2014, that sent an estimated 24 million cubic metres of mining waste into the pristine waters of Quesnel Lake.

The incident, considered one of the worst mining disasters in Canadian history, was simply the result of “poor practices,” according to B.C. chief inspector of mines, Al Hoffman, and not due to “non-compliances.”

Hoffman released the results of a yearlong investigation into the tailing pond’s failure Thursday and did not recommend charges be brought against the mine or its parent company.

The Mount Polley mine was operating within existing regulation, Hoffman found, but failed to use best available practices. Hoffman made 19 recommendations to the B.C. government and the mining industry to prevent a similar event from occurring in the future. The recommendations include introducing a “designated mine dam safety manager” to monitor tailings facilities as well as improving records management and transparency around design, construction and operation of mining facilities.

B.C.’s Ministry of Mines currently has no rule in place for levying administrative penalties against mining operators. Upon release of the report, B.C. Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett said he hopes to introduce new legislation this spring that will give his ministry the power to impose fines to encourage compliance.

New B.C. $5.4 Billion Gold and Copper Mine Will Improve Water Quality in River, Says Company

Water quality in a tributary of one of Southeast Alaska’s prime salmon rivers will improve once a new mine opens on the B.C. side of the border according to spokesmen for Seabridge Gold Inc, the Toronto-based company planning to open the Kerr-Sulpherets-Mitchell (KSM) mine.

The copper, gold and molybdenum mine, 65 kilometres northwest of Stewart and 30 kilometres from the Alaska border, received federal and provincial environmental assessment approvals last year and the company is now seeking a joint venture partner for the $5.4-billion project.

But the prospect of a massive mine close to a tributary that runs into the Unuk River has alarmed Alaskan fishing, First Nations and environmental groups who say the risk is unacceptable and are pushing for transboundary mining issues to be referred to the International Joint Commission.

The long term risks of KSM far outweigh any short-term improvements to water quality the mine may create,” Chris Zimmer, Rivers Without Borders Alaska campaign director, said.

Trust, Social Licence and Spin: A Tale of Two Countries

When B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett visited Southeast Alaska this summer, his aim was to calm critics of the province’s aggressive push to build at least 10 mines in northwest British Columbia, close to the Alaska border.

I understand why people feel so strongly about protecting what they have,” Bennett said at a Juneau news conference. “There’s a way of life here that has tremendous value and the people here don’t want to lose it. I get that.”

What led to Minister Bennett taking such a conciliatory tone? An unprecedented outpouring of concern from a powerful alliance of Alaskan politicians, tribes, fishing organizations and environmental groups perturbed by the modern-day gold rush alongside vital transboundary salmon rivers such as the Unuk, Taku and Stikine.

Indeed, long-held perceptions of Canada as a country with strict environmental standards and B.C. as a province that values natural beauty have taken a near-fatal beating in Southeast Alaska, where many now regard Canadians as bad neighbours unilaterally making decisions that could threaten the region’s two major economic drivers — tourism and fishing.

Alaskans emphasize they are not against resource extraction, provided there are adequate environmental and financial safeguards, but believe Canada’s record — most recently illustrated by the Mount Polley mine tailings dam collapse — shows that B.C.’s regulations are not strong enough to protect downstream communities.

‘Industrialization of the Wilderness’: Wade Davis on the Northwest Transmission Line

An ugly thread of misspent taxpayer dollars, environmental destruction and conflict-of-interest — backed by a government beholden to the mining industry — runs along the recently completed Northwest Transmission Line, charges acclaimed explorer and scholar Wade Davis.

The $716-million transmission line, budgeted in 2010 at $404-million, snakes 344 kilometres into B.C.’s wilderness, from north of Terrace to Bob Quinn Lake, and, to the alarm of downstream Southeast Alaska residents, the line is opening the area to mining in the headwaters of vital salmon-bearing rivers.

Those concerns have grown exponentially since the Mount Polley tailings dam collapsed in August 2014, sending 24-million cubic metres of toxic debris flowing into Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake, and groups in B.C. and Alaska are warning that a Mount Polley-type disaster in the area known as the Sacred Headwaters, where acidity is likely to be high, would wipe out the multi-billion dollar fishing and tourism industries on both sides of the border.

One Year In, Likely Residents Remain Frustrated with Superficial Cleanup of Mount Polley Mine Spill

Gary and Peggy Zorn lost their livelihood in the wake of the Mount Polley mining disaster one year ago today, the couple explained, after foreign tourists lost the desire to experience the region as a travel destination renowned for its wildlife.

Gary Zorn, adorned with the impressive title of “bear whisperer,” said their eco-tour grizzly-watching outfit lost hundreds of thousands of dollars the day the mine’s tailings pond breached sending as estimated 24 million cubic metres of contaminated mining waste down the Hazeltine Creek and into Quesnel Lake, a local source of drinking water.

The Zorns said in the year that has passed since the spill, the mine, owned by Imperial Metals, has only completed a superficial cleanup in the area, leaving a lingering stain on both the environment and the region’s reputation.

It’s pretty quiet here,” Gary Zorn said. “The businesses are suffering quite a bit here in Likely because of the damage the breach has done.”

It’s not just what the breach did environmentally to us; it’s what has happened with the bad publicity we got when this went around the world. That also hurt everybody here.”

Alaskans to Commemorate Anniversary of Mount Polley Mine Disaster as Similar Accidents Predicted to Increase

One year after 24 million cubic metres of mine sludge and water swept into rivers and lakes below Imperial Metal’s Mount Polley mine in B.C., Southeast Alaskans will gather to commemorate the tailings pond breach and bless the Stikine River.

Those at the Aug. 2 gathering in Wrangell, where the salmon-rich Stikine runs into the ocean, will also be looking for ways to ensure there is no Mount Polley-style disaster in the B.C. headwaters of the Iskut River, a major tributary of the Stikine, where Imperial Metals has opened the Red Chris mine.

The ceremony will be hosted by Wrangell Cooperative Association, and tribal administrator Aaron Angerman said he hopes other Southeast Alaskan communities will follow suit and hold their own ceremonies.

I am frightened to think that what happened at Mount Polley could happen here in our backyard now that the Red Chris mine is operational — that the fish we’ve relied on traditionally for thousands of years could be contaminated or disappear, that the local commercial fishing industry could be decimated and that we could see the local businesses that rely on the industry close doors,” he said.

B.C. Approves Partial Reopening of Mount Polley Mine Despite Major Unanswered Questions About Tailings Spill

Mount Polley Mine Site, Carol Linnitt

Nearly one year after the catastrophic collapse of the Mount Polley mine tailings pond, which sent an estimated 25 million cubic metres of contaminated mining waste and water into Quesnel Lake, the project is permitted to partially reopen.

The B.C. government approved a permit to temporarily restart the gold and copper mine at half capacity even though the company has no long-term plan to deal with an abundance of water on site. A backlog of water, which overburdened the tailings storage pit, contributed to the accident last August according to an engineering panel that investigated the incident.

Mines Minister Bill Bennett said the province will approve the short-term permit while the mine figures out how to deal with the excess water.

Our choice was: Do we wait for them for a year to do absolutely everything that shows they have a long-term plan, or let them operate for a few months and get people working again and allow the company to earn some revenue, given there’s no negative impact to the environment?” Bennett said.

Breach of Trust: Opposing Factions Divide Likely, B.C., Months After Mount Polley Mine Spill

“I’m surprised that nobody has been killed here since the spill.”

That’s what one resident of Likely, B.C., recently told me at her home near Quesnel Lake, the site of the Mount Polley mine disaster that sent 24 million cubic metres of mining waste into the lake last August.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity she said she was warned by another community member about discussing the Mount Polley mine spill with journalists.

Be careful, they said to me. Be careful.”

She said another woman, who lives up the road, received three separate threatening phone calls after speaking with a television crew in the wake of the spill.

One person told her she should mind her own goddam business.”


Subscribe to tailings pond