Imperial Metals

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.

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.

Cross-Border Agreement Disappoints Alaskan Fishing and Environmental Groups Wanting More Input into B.C. Mines

B.C. and Alaska signed a pact Wednesday designed to give Alaskans more say on Canadian mine approvals in transboundary watersheds through a high-level joint working group.

The agreement follows an unprecedented outcry this summer from Alaskan fishing groups, U.S. politicians, aboriginal and environmental groups, worried about the effect on salmon bearing rivers of a surge of mine development in B.C.’s northwest corner.

Concerns about B.C. oversight and mining rules escalated after the Mount Polley tailings pond collapse in August that sent 24-million cubic metres of mine waste, water and silt rushing into nearby lakes and rivers. A subsequent investigation concluded the spill was largely due to an inadequately designed tailings pond.

The disaster underlined Alaskan fears that a similar incident or leaching of toxic chemicals in mines close to the border could wipe out salmon runs in rivers such as the Stikine, Unuk and Taku. Outrage intensified after the B.C. government gave the go-ahead last fall to the Red Chris mine, owned by Imperial Metals, the company that also owns Mount Polley.

The Trouble With Tailings: Toxic Waste ‘Time Bombs’ Loom Large Over Alaska’s Salmon Rivers

Mount Polley dam failure

There are a few unarguable truths about mine tailings, the pulverized rock, water and sludge left over from mineral extraction — mining is a messy business, the leftovers have to be dealt with forever and it’s impossible to guarantee against another tailings dam failure such as the Mount Polley catastrophe.

In B.C., there are 98 tailings storage facilities at 60 metal and coal mines, of which 31 are operating or under construction and the remaining 67 are at mines that are either permanently or temporarily closed

That means communities throughout B.C. and Alaska are looking nervously at nearby tailings ponds, which sometimes more closely resemble lakes, stretching over several square kilometres, with the toxic waste held back by earth and rock-filled dams. The water is usually recycled through the plant when the mine is operating, but, after the mine closes, water, toxins and finely ground rock must continue to be contained or treated.

It’s the realization that tailings have to be treated in perpetuity that worries many of those living downstream, especially as the Mount Polley breach happened only 17 years after the dam was constructed.

The concept of forever boggles people minds. In one thousand years is the bank account still going to be there? These people are going to be dead,” said Chris Zimmer of Rivers Without Borders.

“They’re Getting Away with It”: Locals Say No Blame Means No Compensation for Mount Polley Mine Spill Victims

Mount Polley Mine Spill

Whether it was an act of God or the fault of negligent mine operators, the cause of Mount Polley mine spill — the worst mining disaster in Canadian history — remains officially undetermined, leaving local residents in a frustrated state of limbo.

One year ago this week the Mount Polley mine tailings impoundment collapsed, sending a catastrophic 24 million cubic metres of contaminated mining waste down the Hazeltine Creek and into Quesnel Lake, a local source of drinking water and in peak years can host up to 60 per cent of the province’s sockeye salmon run.

The province of B.C. says the Mount Polley Mining Corporation, owned by Imperial Metals, is still under investigation although some fear a January report that found glacial silt responsible for the instability of the collapsed tailings pond may take culpability away from the company.

Kanahus Manuel, a local indigenous activist and member of the Secwepemc First Nation, said the province’s decision to approve a partial re-opening of the Mount Polley mine last month signals to the media and the public that the company is without blame.

The province giving the permit to Mount Polley was very irresponsible,” she said. “Mount Polley still under investigation and they haven’t cleaned up this disaster.”

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