Friday, August 8, 2014

Environment

Everyone's Responsibility

Conditions right for Mt Polley tailings disaster, plus a local connection to site

Submitted by Ian Stephen, Interim WaterWeath Project Dir/Voice file photo

 

CHILLIWACK BC – Ian Stephen, Interim Director of The WaterWealth Project, had the following comment on the Mount Polley Mine Tailings Disaster.

 

In the Mount Polley tailings disaster, we witness not only the failure of a tailings dam, but of regulation and planning.

 

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennet said in a media release August 5th “This is a serious incident that should not have happened.” and “we are determined to prevent an incident like this from happening again.” Clearly. Yet tailings spills occurred in BC in 2004, 2009, 2010, a near miss in 2012, spill in 2013, and now 2014.

Conditions were ripe for the Mount Polley failure with record snow early in the year, mill throughput at a high in April, tailings over limit May and June and extreme rainfall July 23. A former foreman at the dam, Gerald MacBurney, said that the dam was breached in May and of the dam failure “And that’s where it popped, right where it was breached. … I knew it was going to burst.” 

 

Company president Brian Kynoch denies MacBurney’s claims, but the fact that the morning of the failure a dozer could be seen parked right beside the gap in the dam lends credence to MacBurney’s words.

It is local people who bear the brunt of these failures and WaterWealth calls for local people to have authority to prevent them. BC needs governance that recognizes title of First Nations, is responsive to local knowledge, local needs and local conditions, and empowers local people to see that such things as the call of consultant Brian Olding & Associates for a structural assessment of the dam are not ignored. 

 

Projections for climate change indicate that we can expect more and greater weather extremes. Earthworks will be particularly vulnerable. 

 

The failure of Imperial Metals to engineer the tailings containment adequately for production and conditions, and the failure of the province to properly regulate the mine are clear indications that the present system is neither forward-thinking enough nor responsive enough to protect the quality of life we enjoy in BC.

WaterWealth’s Interim Director Ian Stephen carries a very personal connection to the Mount Polley tailings spill.  To read more see www.waterwealthproject.com/mount_polley

 

 

Assembly of First Nations Calls for Immediate Action to Limit Impacts of Mount Polley Mine Tailings Pond Breach in British Columbia

OTTAWA ON – The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) today called for immediate action to address and limit any potential impacts of the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond breach in British Columbia.

“We call on the provincial and federal governments and Imperial Metals to take all necessary action to mitigate the impacts of this developing and deeply troubling environmental crisis,” said AFN BC Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould.  “It is imperative that First Nations and others living in the region have up-to-date and accurate information.  First Nations must be involved in the development and implementation of remediation plans as well as being involved in the future regulation of the environment to ensure their citizens, families and traditional territories are protected.  There are immediate risks to the residents, the environment and the economy – particularly the fisheries.  This area is upstream from the Fraser River and is a major spawning ground for salmon, both of which are integral to Indigenous peoples culture and way of life.”

The Mount Polley Mine is an open pit copper and gold mine southeast of Quesnel, BC, operated by Imperial Metals Corp.  On Monday, a tailings pond wall collapsed spilling (according to current reports) 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of silt that could contain metals like cadmium, lead and arsenic into surrounding waterways.  Efforts are still underway to contain and assess the damage.  The Cariboo Regional District has already initiated a water ban urging people not to drink or wash in the water and declared a local state of emergency on Wednesday.

AFN Alberta Regional Chief Cameron Alexis, who oversees the Environment portfolio for the AFN, stated, “There are serious concerns about the broader and long-term effects on the people, the water and the environment in this region.  First Nations and many Canadians continue to be concerned about the weakening of environmental standards and protection of waterways and fish habitats as a result of recent changes to legislation.  Because of our location and way of life, First Nations are often the first to feel the effects of environmental changes.  We must focus on the need to include First Nations in early planning and mitigation as well as monitoring the long-term effects where our lands and traditional territories are concerned.  This is our right and this approach will benefit all Canadians.”

The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada. Follow AFN on Twitter @AFN_Comms, @AFN_Updates.

 

 

 

"Gut-Wrenching" Spill Say Greens

 

You have probably heard about the developing environmental disaster near the town of Likely in central BC, where a gold and copper mine tailings pond has breached, sending millions of cubic meters of waste into waterways southeast of Quesnel.

The effluent may include thousands of kilograms of toxic chemicals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury.

It has been a gut-wrenching two days as information on this tragic situation trickles in.

BC Green MLA, Andrew Weaver has also published a detailed overview of what we know so far with regards to the breach. It can be read here.

We will keep you up-to-date as new information emerges.

In the meantime, my thoughts are with everyone affected by what may be the worst environmental disaster in British Columbia's history.

 

Today I released a statement to the media, and I wanted to share it with you (below).

 

 

Statement from B.C. Green Party Leader Adam Olsen on Mt. Polley disaster

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VICTORIA BC– “The pictures and video of the breach are appalling. I was overwhelmed by a deep sadness seeing those images,” said Adam Olsen, Leader of the B.C. Green Party. “I am extremely concerned for the residents of the area whose health and safety are of utmost importance. I am grateful that no lives have been lost to this disaster.

“By all appearances, the response to this disaster has been all too slow. Communication with residents, many of whom are located across large geographic areas with intermittent or no cellular and internet coverage, has been insufficient. For a government that touts ‘world-class’ response and recovery policies, this is a failure.

“Additionally, this disaster has put an enormous financial burden on the local community to ensure their immediate and basic needs are met. It is essential that the government provide a statement of financial assurance and backing to residents of the affected areas for their immediate needs.

“The potential human and environmental consequences of this disaster cannot be underestimated. The B.C. Green Party will focus on working with communities, local organizations and government entities to support their immediate needs, and assess the long-term effects of this situation and the systematic deficiencies in our mining and environmental policies.”

 

Statement from New Democrat leader on Mount Polley Mine tailings pond breach

Voice file photo


VICTORIA BC– New Democrat Leader John Horgan released the following statement following the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond breach:


“This breach has the potential to have a devastating effect on people, livestock and wild animals in the region for many years to come. My thoughts are with everyone who is working to understand what happened, stop continued damage and begin to remediate as best as possible what can only be described as a disastrous failure of mine infrastructure.


“Responsible resource development needs to be a priority for B.C. We all know that permitting industrial activity has an environmental impact that needs to be balanced against the economic benefits locally, regionally and provincially. This incident demonstrates how critical that balance is and what happens when you get it wrong.


It’s worrying that the B.C. Liberal government took over a day even to comment. It raises concerns about whether the government has the ability to monitor the safety of these structures or is able to effectively respond to incidents when they happen.


The coming days will shed more light on what went wrong at this tailings pond. New Democrats will be among those looking for answers.
 

 

B.C. Liberals must release all documents on Mount Polley Mine tailings pond

VICTORIA – The B.C. Liberals must release any and all documents related to the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond and dam, say B.C.’s New Democrats.

“The tailings pond failure at Mount Polley Mine may be the worst industrial accident in B.C. I’ve seen in my lifetime and Premier Clark and the Liberal government need to be held accountable for their role in it,” said New Democrat leader John Horgan.

“The Liberals need to release all records and reports on the development, monitoring, and enforcement of this tailings pond and dam within the week so the public can have confidence in the investigation and in the government’s ability to prevent such disasters and enforce responsible development in B.C.”

Horgan is visiting the town of Likely, B.C. on Wednesday to meet with people and survey the devastation from the dam failure.

“This is a community that has been devastated, not just the workers employed at the mine site, but in vital industries like ranching and tourism,” said Horgan. “The impact on salmon could be tragic as well, as up to 10 per cent of the sockeye run on the Fraser spawn in the Quesnel Lake area.”

“I’m here to take a look around and help in any way I can,” said Horgan.

New Democrat spokesperson for energy and mines Norm Macdonald echoed Horgan’s sympathies for the people affected by this disaster and stressed the importance of a balanced approach to economic development.

“To ensure a strong economy, we have to get the balance right,” said Macdonald. “We need to ensure government is responsible and has the enforcement tools to ensure safe and sustainable development of our resources and hold accountable those who we give the right to harvest the resources that belong to all British Columbians.”

 

 

Premier undermining public trust with approach to mine disaster

VICTORIA – Premier Christy Clark is undermining public trust in resource development in B.C. with her uninformed and reckless approach to the Mount Polley tailings pond failure, say B.C.’s New Democrats.

"Premier Clark's visit to Likely yesterday raised more new questions than it answered," said New Democrat energy and mines spokesperson Norm Macdonald. "She made pronouncements about how the disaster cleanup will be paid for that simply don't add up, and dodged the question of ensuring there is a truly independent investigation."

The premier claimed Imperial Metals' reclamation bond could pay for the cleanup costs, but four full days after the disaster she wasn’t able to provide any facts about how much was being held in bond for tailings cleanup or when it would be used.

"The premier also indicated taxpayers could be on the hook for the cost of cleanup, but didn't offer any clear information about what that might mean," said Macdonald. "Meanwhile her mines minister is telling people the company will be the ones to pay. Which is it?"

According to media reports, a financial analyst with BMO Nesbitt Burns has indicated the company could be facing $200 million in legal and other costs. "How much of that is the cost of cleanup, and how much of that cleanup cost will fall to taxpayers?" asked Macdonald.

New Democrat environment spokesperson Spencer Chandra Herbert said the premier's plan to use conservation officers to investigate the tailings pond failure makes no sense.

"This is an unprecedented catastrophe and the public is rightly concerned about risks to the province’s other tailings ponds. Anything other than an independent investigation suggests the premier is hiding from the full truth when nothing else will be acceptable," said Chandra Herbert.

While conservation officers do a great job of environmental stewardship, they have little to no experience investigating the geotechnical complexities of large scale mining disasters or the actions of government’s mines safety staff and procedures.

New Democrat leader John Horgan was at the disaster site on Wednesday and Thursday calling for a fully independent inquiry and for the B.C. Liberals to the release all records and reports on the development, monitoring, and enforcement of the tailings pond and dam within the week.

"Premier Clark's failure to deal openly and transparently with this tailings dam failure will hurt not only mining and other resource industries that drive our economy, but also the workers and communities who rely on them," said Macdonald.

 

 

Status update on Mt. Polley mine tailings pond breach

Voice file photo

LIKELY – The following is the latest information from the Ministry of Environment with regards to the Mt. Polley mine tailings pond breach.

Water samples taken from five locations in Quesnel River on Aug. 5, 2014, have been tested and confirm all samples meet provincial and federal drinking water guidelines for a second straight day.

Due to public safety issues posed by a potential release of further sediment and debris that has built up at Polley Lake, the Ministry of Environment has approved Imperial Metals plan to reduce the water level by constructing a pipeline to Hazeltine Creek which will flow downstream into Quesnel Lake. This water will be tested daily.

Initial water samples have also been taken from the shore of Polley Lake and have been sent for testing. These samples are being taken from the point where water is being diverted to lower the levels in Polley Lake. It is still unsafe to access the lake by boat, to get samples from different depths and locations. However, these surface samples will be a good early indicator of whether or not the water meets drinking water guidelines. These preliminary results are expected over the weekend.

Environment Minister Mary Polak along with Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Coralee Oakes, MLA for Cariboo North, and Donna Barnett, MLA for Cariboo-Chilcotin, met with Chiefs of several First Nations from the central interior this morning to discuss next steps in the process and how the Province and First Nations can work together.

The Conservation Officer Service is requesting the public’s assistance in their investigation into the cause of the tailings pond breach. There are six Major Investigation Unit (MIU) investigators currently assigned to the investigation. The COS has full authority to independently handle investigations and forward recommendations for charges directly to provincial crown counsel.

If the public has any information, they are asked to call the Report all Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line at 1 877 952-7277 or online at: www.env.gov.bc.ca/cos/rapp/form.htm

More information regarding response to the Mount Polley mine incident can be viewed here: http://wwwt.env.gov.bc.ca/eemp/incidents/2014/mount-polley.htm

 

 

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