Canada: Protest marks Mount Polley mine disaster anniversaryPublished by MAC on 2016-08-05
Source: Canadian Press, Globe & Mail (2016-08-04)
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Protest marks Mount Polley mine disaster anniversary
By Dirk Meissner
4 August 2016
VICTORIA – The second anniversary of a mining disaster in British Columbia’s central Interior was marked with a First Nations protest and a pledge from the company that the situation has improved at the Mount Polley mine.
On Aug. 4, 2014, a tailings storage facility burst at the mine, sending 24 million cubic metres of waste and water into nearby lakes and rivers.
Outside the site on Thursday a group, which includes members of the Secwepemc Women’s Warrior Society, protested. They said in a statement that the community is exercising its sovereignty by taking direct action after the B.C. government granted the mine owner Imperial Metals (TSX:Ill) a permit in June to resume full operations.
Kanahus Freedom, a spokeswoman for the warrior society, stated B.C. does not have jurisdiction to grant mining permits to companies “without the free, prior, informed consent of the Secwepemc Tribal Peoples.”
“As long as Imperial Metals and the government that backs them continue to devastate our lands with no accountability, we will take whatever action necessary to defend our lands,” said a statement from protesters.
Steve Robertson, Imperial Metals vice president of corporate affairs, said the protest is peaceful and is not disrupting company operations. The mine employs 325 people.
“The last report we have is we still have full use of the access road,” he said.
READ MORE: Mount Polley Mine allowed to reopen almost two years after environmental disaster
Imperial Metals views the second anniversary of the tailings pond breach as reminder of the mine’s continued efforts improve its business, Robertson said.
“We just continue to look at everyday as another day forward where we’re actually able to improve things and get back to a normalized operation at Mount Polley.”
An independent, government-ordered panel of experts concluded the cause of the tailings breach was an inadequately designed dam at the open pit copper and gold mine that didn’t account for drainage and erosion failures beneath the pond.
The disaster prompted reviews and resulted in the province implementing world-leading regulatory standards for the mining industry, Mines Minister Bill Bennett said.
Robertson said the new measures put B.C. at the forefront of global standards for safety at tailings storage facilities at mines.
“I would suggest that the Mount Polley tailings facility is probably one of the best studied facilities anywhere in the world,” he said.
The tailings storage facility at Mount Polley has been repaired and improved, Robertson added.
“We have a great deal of confidence that the current engineered design is more than adequate for the task it is required to do.”
The Sierra Club of B.C. released a report this week by mining expert David Chambers that concluded the government could do more to ensure safety at tailings storage facilities.
Bennett said since the disaster, the government and Imperial Metals have held hundreds of meetings with First Nations, communities, unions and the mining industry.
Freedom said the protesters at the mine site are not behind the Williams Lake and Soda Creek Indian Bands, who supported re-opening the mine. She could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Lisa Kraus, vice president of the Likely Chamber of Commerce, said residents of the tiny community closest to the mine site support the operation, but the disaster has created divisions among residents.
Mount Polley mine still at risk for future tailings breach: analyst
4 August 2016
VANCOUVER — The reopened Mount Polley mine is still at dangerous risk of another tailings pond collapse, despite British Columbia’s new mining code provisions aimed at ensuring that such a disaster never happens again, says a U.S. mining-sector analyst.
David Chambers, president of the Montana-based Center for Science in Public Participation – which provides technical assistance on mining and water quality to public interest groups – examined the conclusions of the government-appointed expert panel that reviewed the 2014 disaster.
On behalf of the Sierra Club BC, Mr. Chambers concluded that there is still latitude for problematic dam construction that could cause future issues, also noting there is a risk of another Mount Polley-type spill without engineering to deal with excess rainwater in such operations.
“One of the disturbing things I got out of this report is that there could be future failures,” said Bob Peart, who is executive director of the Sierra Club BC.
In August, 2014, the tailings pond at the gold and copper mine failed, pouring more than 20 million cubic metres of mine waste and water into surrounding rivers and lakes in the region, about 400 kilometres northeast of Vancouver near Quesnel Lake.
Among other problems, the spill forced a nine-day drinking-water ban for residents in the area. It also raised concerns about the longer-term impact on fish and wildlife.
The B.C. government reacted with mining-code revisions, including new design standards for tailings storage facilities, which it says will ensure such a disaster never happens again.
But Mr. Chambers is raising concerns about the conclusions of the expert panel that reviewed the disaster. In a report to be released Thursday, he wrote that real change in managing operations similar to Mount Polley will cost more than present practices.
“The code guidance does not go far enough to truly implement the expert panel recommendations for tailings dam stability,” Mr. Chambers wrote.
He was travelling in Alaska on Wednesday and unavailable for comment.
The Ministry of Energy and Mines was also unavailable for comment, but Minister Bill Bennett said last month that he was confident new regulations would prevent any future accident with a tailings storage facility in British Columbia.
Al Hoffman, British Columbia’s chief inspector of mines, said, “We’ve worked very hard on these code revisions and I think we’ve filled in a lot of those cracks. … So it’s very unlikely it will happen again.”
The independent review of the disaster concluded that the tailings dam collapsed because original designs did not consider the strength and location of clay beneath the dam. Construction on an initial dam at the site was completed in 1997. Operators have added to its height in subsequent years.
The mine is owned by Imperial Metals Corp. In June, the company was cleared to fully resume operations. Since the spill, Imperial has spent more than $70-million on remediation and restoration work, including the planting of about 30,000 trees and shrubs to repair damage caused by the spill.
Mr. Chambers also found that regulations should be more explicit about minimizing incident and run-on storm water in such operations, and that the ministry should ensure that physical stability or safety is given more weight than other factors in any risk assessments.
Without “additional guidance,” he wrote, the risk-assessment process may give “financial impacts more explicit or implicit priority than safety and health.”
Imperial Metals has launched a lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court alleging negligence and breach of contract by two engineering firms involved in the design and monitoring of the ill-fated tailings operation.
The Mount Polley tailings breach is also the subject of an ongoing investigation by a task force from the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, as well as the federal Fisheries Department and Environment Canada. Once the investigation is done, the member agencies will decide, along with the B.C. Justice Ministry and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, on the most “efficient” next step, the B.C. conservation service said in a statement issued Wednesday.
Mr. Peart of the Sierra Club described Mr. Chambers as a credible observer in the field of mine operations whose observations have some weight. “His name has been a fundamental part of these conversations for years, and he is reputable,” he said from Victoria. “This isn’t a higgledy-piggledy back-of-the-envelope analysis.”
Mr. Peart said he hopes the report will have a positive impact on the B.C. mining sector. “There are some good, responsible companies out there, and I think the good, responsible companies will be able to see a report such as this and be able to go, ‘Yes. We’re doing that,’” he said.
“I think it maybe is a wake-up call for some of the companies that aren’t as professional and I really hope that the government listens to reports such as this and tightens up their recommendations.”
Two years later
2 August 2016
Before the Mount Polley Mine disaster struck two years ago, our communities of Xat'sull First Nation and Likely lived in the reassurance from B.C. and the company that no such tragedy could ever happen. On Aug. 4, 2014, our lives and the landscape were changed forever, as the impacts of mining are forever.
Both our communities rely on the Quesnel Lake watershed for our way of life and economic prosperity. Yet the Mount Polley disaster--which sent 24 billion litres of contaminated process water and tailings into the lake--endangered all of that. The mine waste has moved well off of the mine footprint, and is loose within the Fraser River watershed.
Two years later, it is still unknown what the long-term effects will be, and numerous local families and businesses have suffered great losses and hardship. Many of us doubt we can be made whole again--by the mine or the province.
For example, previous to the disaster, harvesting and processing up to 200 salmon per Xat'sull family was at the heart of our food security, teaching our children about the land, and engaging in cultural practices such as trade and sharing with the less fortunate. Mount Polley responded to our ongoing concerns about contaminated salmon by delivering the equivalent of three tins of salmon per Xat'sull member last winter. The total lack of understanding and inadequate response - from a company who boasts excellent First Nations relationships- is stunning and revealing.
Likely and Xat'sull remain deeply concerned about water. After many months of local pressure to secure safe drinking water, the mine provided (inefficient) domestic water filters for Quesnel Lake homeowners. It continues to use an under-performing water treatment plant that discharges mine effluent to Quesnel Lake, has not finalized a long-term water management plan and recently asked the Ministry of Environment to relax water quality requirements at the water treatment plant. It has left local residents fuming. Have we really come to the point where wanting clean water makes us dissidents?
B.C. has not fined nor penalized the company for this disaster. Instead it granted hydro tax breaks--even as parent company Imperial Metals made a first quarter profit of $17.7 million for 2016. This was done with the full support of the B.C. Liberal government, which has benefitted financially from the donations of this company. Local businesses and residents have received nothing.
While the province announced some changes to the mining code in July, the updates are not strong enough to prevent another Mount Polley disaster. In 2015, the province's Mount Polley Independent Expert Review Panel estimated two massive tailings dam failures will occur every 10 years. The recent B.C. Auditor General's condemning report on mining in B.C. stated the obvious: mining self-regulation is not working and a thorough overhaul is required. Communities across the province are still at risk.
Xat'sull never gave consent to the re-opening of the mine, nor to the ongoing discharges into the lake. Our traditional economic system lives off the interest, not the principal, of the land, to ensure long-term security. Current extractive economies are unsustainable and spend the principal in less than a generation.
For more than 100 years, the Quesnel Lake watershed produced billions of revenue dollars for government and industry through tourism, logging and mining, and a once profitable Horsefly River sockeye salmon run. Downstream farmers, First Nations, and sport and commercial fishers also depend on the integrity of the Quesnel Lake watershed for their livelihoods. It's all connected.
The precedents being set now will impact future disasters and how they are addressed. We all must demand that health and safety be put before one company's profits, that sustainable economies be supported, and that local communities have decision-making powers over their own future.
Xat'sull and Likely know that it's easy to be good neighbours when you respect and understand each other. It's time for the mining industry and B.C. to act in the best interest of impacted communities and ecosystems, not just the bottom line.
- Richard Holmes is a biologist and a 42-year Likely resident who worked closely with Xat'sull in the aftermath of the Mount Polley Mine disaster. He is a member of Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake, and the Mount Polley Mine Corp. Public Liaison Committee.
Jacinda Mack is a Xat'sull member. Previously, she was the Natural Resources Manager for Xat'sull and was actively involved in the First Nations response to the Mount Polley Disaster. Currently, she is the coordinator of First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining , a coalition of women leaders advocating mining reform in BC.