Tahltan call for blockade of Imperial Metals mine in wake of Mt. Polley disaster

Tahltan Klabona Keepers during blockade of Fortune Minerals mine, 2013.

Tahltan Klabona Keepers during blockade of Fortune Minerals mine, 2013.

Water-use ban remains in effect until further testing, official says

LIKELY — A group of Tahltan First Nation elders is adding to the opposition of mining projects in British Columbia following the Mount Polley tailings-dam failure calling for a blockade today of the Red Chris mine project near Iskut in the far northwest.

Red Chris, a $500-million copper gold mine under construction, and the Mount Polley mine north are both owned by Imperial Metals Corp. and the elders, under the name the Klabona Keepers, issued an advisory calling for the action “in response to the (Mount Polley Mine) disaster and our serious concerns over (Red Chris Mine).

The Klabona Keepers, according to the group’s website, is an organization of elders and families who use the Tahltan’s traditional lands near Iskut known as the “sacred headwaters of the Stikine, Nass and Skeena Rivers.”

The Tahltan First Nation was in the process of negotiating an impact and benefits agreement with Imperial Metals and the government, but on Aug. 6, Tahltan Central Council president Chad Day said the Mount Polley situation “obviously means we have new questions and concerns that we must discuss.”

“To date, no IBA has been signed and the mine does not have all of the permits required to open,” Day said in the statement.

In the meantime, at Quesnel Lake, Interior Health is keeping its ban on using water from the lake in place although first tests have shown that the water meets Canadian drinking water standards.

The first tests of water in Quesnel Lake and the Quesnel River have met drinking water standards days after the Mount Polley mine tailings pond dam collapse, but Likely-area residents learned Thursday of a new contamination danger.

The 10 million cubic metres of mine effluent that poured out of the tailings pond carried with it sand that has blocked a creek emptying Polley Lake.

Mount Polley tailings pond breach.

Mount Polley tailings pond breach.

The lake level has risen two metres and is at risk of breaching, which could pour additional amounts of potentially toxic sand into Quesnel Lake.

As a result, a water-use ban in the area remains in place, Interior Health chief medical health officer Trevor Corneil announced at a community meeting of more than 200 beside the Quesnel River in Likely.

Corneil said the first water test results were “very reassuring” but that until they can safely test the water in Polley Lake and be certain the additional water in the lake does not end up in Quesnel Lake, it is prudent to keep the ban in place.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark called the test results “promising,” but noted it was one day of sampling.

“We are profoundly concerned about what happened,” said Clark, who was in Likely to meet residents.

“This is one of the clearest and most pristine lakes anywhere in the world — ask anyone who grew up here. You can dive into the lake and take a big gulp of water. And we want to find a way to get it back to its previous pristine state,” she said.

After a flyover of the site, Clark called what she had seen “massive” and “astounding.”

The first test results include only three sample locations, but sampling will continue in more spots along Quesnel Lake, and also for solids deposited by the dam beak. Those results will be reported by the B.C. Environment Ministry as it receives them. Water samples are being tested at a federal lab and a certified private lab in the Lower Mainland.

Likely resident Al McMillan said the results of the first water tests were “absolutely” good news; however, he is now concerned more tailings-pond water and sand will be deposited in Quesnel Lake.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” he said.

Before the results were released, Northern Lights Lodge owner Skeed Burkowski said even if the preliminary tests showed water was clean, he wouldn’t be satisfied.

He had visited the Hazeltine Creek area Wednesday and found a former 40-hectare swampy area covered in sludge from the tailings pond spill, which he said was leaching into the lake.

“The water test results don’t mean anything,” he said.

Area residents have voiced concerns about the effects the mine spill will have on the environment, but also the economy, including the mining jobs and tourism jobs that depend on a pristine watershed.

Imperial Metals has been given the OK to transfer some of the water from Polley Lake into pits on the mine site, and also to drain some of the water into Quesnel Lake.

While that may not seem very palatable, it was a better alternative to Polley Lake breaking the sand plug backing up the lake, said Mines Minister Bill Bennett.

Bennett said progress being made on repairing the dam at the tailings pond to ensure that if it rains, more sand is not carried down Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake.

Mount Polley map 1The premier, Bennett and Environment Minister Mary Polak participated in a healing ceremony on the banks of the Quesnel River carried out by the Xatsull and Esketemc First Nations.

The ceremony included drumming, traditional songs, smoking of pipes and a walk to the Quesnel River bridge. Charcoal smudges were placed on those gathered at the ceremony including Clark and her cabinet ministers.

“At times like this I think about what the future is like,” Esketemc elder Arthur Dick said during the ceremony. “There is a poison coming down this river behind me … That’s why this healing song is for everyone.”

During the walk onto the bridge, Clark was confronted by longtime Likely resident Bill Best.

He said he questioned her on the independence of the water test results because residents depend on the water quality in the area. “We live here — this is our environment,” Best said.

NDP leader John Horgan, who also participated in the First Nations ceremony, said some kind of independent review is needed of the catastrophe. He said because the provincial regulators could be implicated in not properly overseeing the mine site, a review needs someone like a former judge or former premier of Manitoba Gary Filmon. Filmon headed an inquiry into B.C.’s 2003 wildfire season.

But Clark said she didn’t believe a public inquiry, which would be slow, was the proper way to investigate the dam collapse.

She said she has confidence in B.C. government scientists and engineers to determine why the incident happened, and then make the appropriate changes that may be needed.

“It’s still a mystery how it happened,” she said. “Once we determine the cause of it, it will be much easier to assign responsibility.”

A half-dozen conservation officers were also investigating, Polak said. Like police officers, they are independent from government and make recommendations for charges directly to Crown counsel, she said.

Polak said the company met a Wednesday deadline to come up with a plan to clean up the site.

Posted on August 8, 2014, in Mining and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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