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Disaster at the Mount Polley Mine (BC): Update

As reported previously, the tailings pond dam at the Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley Mine in British Columbia was breached creating an ecological disaster that threatens up to two million sockeye salmon just coming up the Fraser River to spawn. Here is an update.

“The Mount Polley tailings pond disaster . . . should serve as a deafening wake-up call for all British Columbians.  Our lasting economy is what swims by in the river and lakes, walks on and grows on the land and flies in the air—and this is what can be destroyed by a lust for the temporary dollars mining can provide.”

Chiefs Loretta Williams (Williams Lake Band) and Bev Sellars (Soda Creek Band)


Some of the latest news from the disaster site:

*British Columbia Premiere Christy Clark (of the BC Liberal Party) has made it to the disaster site.  She announced that initial test results of the water contaminated at the Polley Mine disaster are “promising”—whatever that means.  She wants the site returned to “its previous pristine state”–somehow.  She was reportedly “walking around the crowd [near the Polley Mine] with face paint on and having her picture taken with the children”—mercifully, no mention of an eagle feather or headdress.  She thinks a public inquiry would be too slow and instead is relying on “government scientists and engineers to determine why the incident happened”.

*Imperial Metals has met its deadline to provide “a plan to stop continued pollution”, etc.—though the Environment Ministry has not released it.

*Imperial Mines president Brian Kynoch called the tailings pond water “almost drinkable” and the solids “relatively benign”—whatever those terms mean.

*Officials say “326 tonnes of nickel, over 400,000 kilograms of arsenic, 177,000 kilograms of lead and 18,400 tonnes of copper and its compounds” were dumped into the tailings pond—which surely has some bearing on the meaning of “almost drinkable” and “relatively benign.”

*Mines Minister Bill Bennett ordered Imperial Mines to stop the effluent discharge, “your classic case of ordering the barn door closed after the livestock has run off—and failing to notice that the door is no longer even there.”

*MIA in all this so far are Environment Minister Mary Polak, Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt “and the two senior B.C. cabinet ministers James Moore and John Duncan.”

*Scratch Mary Polak from the MIA list as she did join in a healing ceremony conducted by the Xatsull and Esketemic First Nations at Quesnel River.

*Imperial Metals is proceeding to relieve the pressure on Polley Lake by diverting water into nearby pits and into Quesnel Lake—noted as not “very palatable” but better than the alternative.

*Recreational salmon fishing is closed; First Nations groups are trying to find out where it’s safe to fish for people dependent on local fish for food.  The First Nations Health Authority is issuing bulletins as info becomes available.

*The Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance and the Watershed Watch Salmon Society expressed great concern about the salmon migration now underway up the Fraser River: “there’s only 24 lakes associated with sockeye in the entire Fraser and seven of those are listed in the red zone [depleted of fish].”

A few bright spots in all this:

*Jack Leggett, “former [30-year] provincial fisheries biologist responsible for Quesnel Lake called . . . for an independent public inquiry into the Mount Polley tailings pond breach to ensure that no party escapes blame and to help prevent a similar occurrence.”

*John Horgan, leader of the BC New Democratic Party, got to the site early on and is “calling for full disclosure of all government records relating to environmental assessments and approvals”.

*Sierra Club B.C. has also called on provincial government “to set up an independent committee of experts to investigate the disaster.”

*Secwepemc Women Warrior Society members sang and beat drums outside the Toronto Stock Exchange, protesting Imperial Metals and the Mount Polley disaster.


Video and photos here, here, here, and here.

Photo by Ingrid Taylar under Creative Commons license

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