Mount Polley restart ignores water concerns: First Nations

Mount Polley tailings pond breach.

Mount Polley tailings pond breach, August 2014.

B.C. is allowing a partial reopening of mine that had catastrophic dam failure last summer

The T’exelc and Xatsull First Nations say they are extremely disappointed that the B.C. government has allowed Imperial Metals to partly restart the Mount Polley mine.

The First Nations contend that allowing the gold and copper mine to reopen is premature, ignores their concerns and could place their and other communities at risk.

The B.C. government announced last week the mine will be allowed to restart at half capacity while Imperial Metals prepares plans for the short-term and long-term discharge of mine waste water.

The mine in the Interior has been closed since last summer when its mine-waste storage dam failed, releasing millions of cubic metres of water and waste rock containing potentially-toxic metals in the Quesnel Lake watershed.

Mount Polley map 1“I strongly feel they are not listening. We had a team of experts working on our behalf. They continually put forth our concerns (to the B.C. government), and I don’t see any long-term plans (to address those concerns),” T’exelc (Williams Lake) First Nation chief Ann Louie said in an interview Sunday.

Louie said the First Nations will make a case for their concerns, including that the province is not honouring an agreement to make decisions jointly, at a meeting scheduled for July 22.

However, Louie did not rule out taking some kind of court action if the province doesn’t start listening to their concerns.

In a written statement on Sunday, mines ministry spokesman David Haslam said the First Nations’ concerns will be addressed during the review of the company’s application for a short-term water discharge permit.

The government’s new conditional permit allows Mount Polley to extract four million tonnes of ore and dump the liquid waste stream — known as tailings — into an unused hole called Springer Pit. The mine’s existing, failed, tailings dam can’t be used.

The government is requiring Mount Polley to submit a short-term plan to treat and discharge water by this fall, and a long-term plan by next June 30, if the mine is to remain operational.

Xatsull (Soda Creek) First Naswtion chief Donna Dixon said there are still too many unanswered questions to issue a restart permit.

An expert engineering panel appointed by the B.C. government concluded earlier this year that the company’s “lack of foresight” in planning for the dam’s future water levels contributed to the breach of its tailings pond wall on Aug. 4, 2014.

The panel said the cause of the breach was a design flaw that failed to recognize a weak glacial soil layer beneath the dam, but other factors that contributed were a dam slope that was too steep, and too much water backlogged behind the walls.

Dixon said, in a written statement, the First Nations were shocked the government would make this decision while investigations by conservation officers and the chief inspector of mines are continuing.

In announcing the restart last week, B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett noted it would allow about 220 workers to return to their jobs. The mine, near Williams Lake, should be operating within 30 days with half its usual workforce, said the company.

Some of the devastation caused by Mount Polley tailings pond rupture.

Some of the devastation caused by Mount Polley tailings pond rupture.

Imperial Metals has said it may have to build a water treatment facility, which can be expensive.

Louie said the First Nations will make a case for their concerns, including that the province is not honouring an agreement to make decisions jointly, at a meeting scheduled for July 22.

However, Louie did not rule out taking some kind of court action if the province doesn’t start listening to their concerns.

In a written statement on Sunday, mines ministry spokesman David Haslam said the First Nations’ concerns will be addressed during the review of the company’s application for a short-term water discharge permit.

The government’s new conditional permit allows Mount Polley to extract four million tonnes of ore and dump the liquid waste stream — known as tailings — into an unused hole called Springer Pit. The mine’s existing, failed, tailings dam can’t be used.

The government is requiring Mount Polley to submit a short-term plan to treat and discharge water by this fall, and a long-term plan by next June 30, if the mine is to remain operational.

Xatsull (Soda Creek) First Naswtion chief Donna Dixon said there are still too many unanswered questions to issue a restart permit.

An expert engineering panel appointed by the B.C. government concluded earlier this year that the company’s “lack of foresight” in planning for the dam’s future water levels contributed to the breach of its tailings pond wall on Aug. 4, 2014.

The panel said the cause of the breach was a design flaw that failed to recognize a weak glacial soil layer beneath the dam, but other factors that contributed were a dam slope that was too steep, and too much water backlogged behind the walls.

Dixon said, in a written statement, the First Nations were shocked the government would make this decision while investigations by conservation officers and the chief inspector of mines are continuing.

In announcing the restart last week, B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett noted it would allow about 220 workers to return to their jobs. The mine, near Williams Lake, should be operating within 30 days with half its usual workforce, said the company.

Imperial Metals has said it may have to build a water treatment facility, which can be expensive.

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Posted on July 13, 2015, in Mining and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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