Imperial Metals

It’s Official: No Provincial Charges for Mount Polley Mine Spill, One of Largest Environmental Disasters in Canadian History

Mount Polley Mine Spill

When it seemed clear the newly minted B.C. NDP government would not pursue charges against Imperial Metals, owner and operator of the Mount Polley mine, for a 2014 tailings pond collapse, one woman decided to take matters into her own hands.

Bev Sellars, former chief of the Xat’sull (Soda Creek) First Nation — in whose territory the tailings pond released an estimated 25 million cubic metres of mining waste into Quesnel Lake — filed a private prosecution against Mount Polley on August 4, 2017, the final day charges could be laid.

Sellars made the case that Mount Polley has violated 15 rules under B.C.’s environmental and mining laws. She brought the private prosecution into play with the hope the province would take over the charges.

But this week B.C.’s Crown Prosecution Service quashed the case, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed.

Decision on Private Prosecution Against Mount Polley Expected Any Day

 Premier John Horgan BC Mount Polley Mine Disaster DeSmog Canada

Premier John Horgan said this week he's anxiously awaiting a court decision on charges against Mount Polley mining corporation brought in a private prosecution by former Xat’sull chief Bev Sellars for violations of B.C.’s environmental laws — but B.C.'s role in that case is still unclear.

B.C.'s crown prosecution service is responsible for the final decision on whether and how B.C. will proceed with the case regarding the 2014 tailings pond collapse that released 24 million cubic metres of mining waste into Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake, a source of drinking water.*

Sellars filed the case on August 4th, 2017 — the last day a case under provincial law could be brought against the company due to a three-year statute of limitations — as a means of holding open the legal door for government, which had only recently come under NDP power.

The courts are expected to make a decision on the fate of the private prosecution by the end of January.

Imperial Metals’ Financial Downgrade Raises Questions About Liability of Mount Polley, Red Chris Mines

Red Chris Mine Garth Lenz| DeSmog Canada

A leading credit rating agency’s financial downgrading of Imperial Metals Corp. is sending alarm signals through B.C. and Alaska groups concerned about the future of mines operated by the company.

Moody’s Investor Service has reassessed Imperial Metals’ “probability of default rating,” with financial analysts stating the company is at imminent risk of not being able to pay its debts. The company’s rating is “judged to be speculative, of poor standing, subject to very high default risk and may be in default on some, but not all, of their long-term debt obligations,” according to the service.

Imperial Metals, based in Vancouver, owns the Mount Polley Mine near Williams Lake — the site of the 2014 tailings pond collapse — and the Red Chris Mine, a large open-pit mine near the border of Alaska which uses the same tailings pond infrastructure as Mount Polley.

In Photos: The Canadian Mining Boom You’ve Never Seen Before

Red Chris mine

If you’re in Vancouver this is way out in the middle of nowhere, but way out in the middle of nowhere is our backyard.”

Those are the words of Frederick Otilius Olsen Jr., the tribal president of a traditional Haida village on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

When I met him, he had travelled to Ketchikan, Alaska, to meet with officials about the risk posed by the mining boom across the border in British Columbia.

He stood on the boardwalk overlooking Ketchikan’s fishing fleet and waved his hands animatedly while he told me about how his culture — and southern Alaska’s economy — depends on salmon.

Canada’s Environmental Fines are Tiny Compared to the U.S.

Mount Polley mine disaster

This week marks the three-year anniversary of the Mount Polley mine disaster, which sent 24 million cubic metres of mining waste into Quesnel Lake, making it one of the worst environmental disasters in Canadian history.

It’ll be a stinging reminder of the tailings pond collapse for local residents, especially considering no charges have been laid against Imperial Metals, owner and operator of Mount Polley.

Come August 5 it will be too late for B.C. to lay charges, given a three-year statute of limitations — however federal charges can be laid for another two years.

But here’s the thing: under the federal Fisheries Act, Mount Polley can receive a maximum of $12 million in fines: $6 million for causing harm to fish and fish habitat and $6 million for dumping deleterious substances without a permit into fish bearing waters.

Mount Polley Investigation Still On, Federal Charges ‘In Play,’ Says B.C. Environment Minister

George Heyman Environment Minister Mount Polley

B.C.’s new Minister of Environment, George Heyman, says he identifies with the many British Columbians eager for the outcome of the single ongoing investigation into the Mount Polley mine disaster that sent 24 million cubic metres of mining waste into Quesnel Lake on August 4, 2014.

I have spoken with the Parliamentary Secretary to the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change. We are in agreement that British Columbians deserve a rigorous and independent investigation to determine exactly what went wrong and to ensure any person or company that broke the law is held responsible,” Heyman said in a press statement released Wednesday, two days before the provincial statute of limitations for Mount Polley expires.

Christy Clark Worried Mount Polley Spill Would Harm New Mine Construction, New Docs Show

Mount Polley Mine Disaster

By Jeremy J.Nuttall for The Tyee.

In the hours after the 2014 Mount Polley mine disaster, authorities were already concerned laws had been broken and the premier’s office was worried fallout from the tailing pond breach would “get in the way” of other planned mines, documents provided to The Tyee reveal.

Almost three years after the disaster, and weeks away from a deadline to lay charges under B.C.’s environment act, no charges have been laid and no fines levied.

The government’s initial reaction to the dam’s collapse is revealed in hundreds of pages of emails and other communications obtained through a freedom of information request and provided to The Tyee by Jessica Ross, an independent researcher and member of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

Ross said she filed the FOI request almost three years ago and only received the documents July 4.

British Columbians Saddled With $40 Million Clean-Up Bill as Imperial Metals Escapes Criminal Charges

Mount Polley Mine Disaster

British Columbian taxpayers will be on the hook for $40 million to clean up the worst mining spill in Canadian history and the company responsible has once again escaped criminal charges after a private prosecution was dismissed this week. 

In August 2014 the 40-metre-high tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine near Williams Lake collapsed, sending 25-million cubic metres of contaminated sludge and mine waste sweeping into lakes and rivers — but no charges have been laid and no fines have been levied against Imperial Metals, the parent company of Mount Polley Mining Corp.

Since 2005, Mount Polley Mining Corp and Imperial Metals Corp have donated $195,010 to British Columbia’s ruling B.C. Liberal party.

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.

Cost of Abandoned, Contaminated Mine Sites in B.C. $508 Million, Up 83 Per Cent Since 2014

Costs associated with the closure and reclamation of 84 abandoned industrial sites, mostly from mining, in B.C. have increased to $508 million, according to new information released from the Crown Contaminated Sites Program.

Responsibility for the sites has fallen to the province because the owners or operators of the projects “no longer exist,” according to a provincial press release

The estimated cleanup costs have grown by $231 million since 2014, representing an increase of 83.4 per cent, watchdog group MiningWatch notes

According to the province, a number of the mines, like the Britannia Mine near Squamish, or the Bralorne-Takla Mine in northern B.C., that now present a risk to human and enviornmental health, operated before 1969 when modern environmental legislation was created.

Although the province is quick to highlight work done over the past two years to clean up contaminated sites, Ugo Lapointe from MiningWatch says the significant growth in overall liability signals an urgent need for reform in the mining sector.

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