Opinion: Mount Polley demands full Judicial Inquiry, with witnesses under oath

Opinion: Mount Polley demands full Judicial Inquiry – under oath

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Opinion: Mount Polley demands full Judicial Inquiry, with witnesses under oath

By Ed Mankelow

The Tailings Dam breach at the Mount Polley Mine is likely the worst mining disaster that this province has seen and it could be getting worse. If the salmon and trout stocks of Quesnel Lake are impacted on their spawning journey to Quesnel Lake and feeder streams, then not only this year’s run but the runs from this year’s spawning of salmon and trout could be lost.

There are abandoned mines in BC and this is especially true with copper mines that have gone acid and leaked into rivers and lakes for years. An example would be the possible reopening of the Tulsequah Chief mine on the Iskut river and the Johnny Mountain mine. The latest mine approved by government, Red Chris, has in the Environmental Assessments Final Report a statement that on closure, the tailing pile would likely turn acid and would have to be treated in perpetuity.

On Mount Polley mine, one of the concerns is the issue of Hazeltine Creek. The massive tailings flow widened the creek to ten times its size, so when the creek returned  to its usual size, a massive area of tailings will be left containing heavy metals.

While the news is that the water in Quesnel Lake is safe to drink, this is preliminary and taken soon after the release. If there is any danger of sulphides anywhere along the creek, then the area could become acid. Mines can become acid over many years and acid mine drainage is known as a “forever problem”.

From the evidence before us, this dam failure did not have to happen. While Imperial Metals must take responsibly for the ultimate dam failure, a host of government failures contributed to this mining disaster. The lack of clear responsibilities. A lack of inspection and monitoring by government branches. Allowing companies to be self-regulating. A lack of adequate budgeting and staffing, which would enable those who should be responsible to do their job.

The 2011 Auditor General report, “The Environmental Assessment Office’s Oversight of Certified Projects”, clearly documents that this is not happening. As Auditor General John Doyle noted:

[quote]Adequate monitoring and enforcement of certified projects is not occurring and follow up evaluations are not conducted. We also found that information currently provided to the public is not sufficient to ensure accountability.[/quote]

In its Feb 10, 2011 report, “The problems with BC mining regulations”, the University of Victoria’s  Environmental Law Centre noted the EAO’s lack of field presence coupled with its lack of a viable compliance and enforcement strategy are further challenges.

To the effective enforcement of provincial EA conditions, moreover – although the 2009 EAO user Guide provides that inspections may be undertaken where appropriate – government staff  report successive budget cuts have had  significant impacts on their enforcement capabilities and they do not consider the enforcement of EA certificates to be within their mandate.

While we are being told by the minister that Imperial Metals applied for an adjustment to their certificate to lower the water level in their tailings pond and it brought them into compliance, it certainly did not solve the issue. We are told by the former tailings pond foreman that he consistently warned the mine managers that their were problems with the height  of the dam walls and the amount of water. He was ignored and finally quit.

Also, an environmental consultant hired by the company warned them of the issues on the dam and recommended that they bring in an engineer to inspect the dam. This they refused to do. The company that designed the tailing pond also talked of warning the company.

There are too many questions unanswered, too many allegations of government and company ignoring concerns. The only way to resolve this issue and arrive at the truth is to have a full judicial inquiry where people testify under oath. A joint review enquiry being suggested will not bring out the truth.

The public should demand a full judicial inquiry.

Ed Mankelow
Past Chair –  Environmental Mining Council of BC
Member – Advisory Council on Mining

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10 thoughts on “Opinion: Mount Polley demands full Judicial Inquiry – under oath

  1. The Tailings Forman turned out not to be a Forman at all, just a CAT operator, he had told his family he was the Forman, so I had to keep up the lie when they came to interview him. It also turns out he really quit because he won a bunch of money playing online poker. So 2 lies right off the bat….so how can we believe any else he says.

    1. Can you provide any evidence of these claims re: Mr. MacBurney, Jerry? I’ve done some searching and can’t find any other sources corroborating your allegations. If you do have evidence to that effect, we’d be interested to see it.

      That said, the real question is whether there is anything inaccurate about what Mr. MacBurney has said about the failure of the tailings dam…Do you dispute his story that he warned the company about the impeding failure of the dam unless they upgraded the aggregate lining the dam wall?

    1. And yet, for some reason it still takes a lot more moxy to lie to a judge than a toothless inspector or “panelist”.

      I attended and covered much of the Cohen Inquiry and though it has been all but ignored by the Harper Government, I don’t think it was a waste of time or money for citizens, First Nations or the conservation community. Maybe not much action, but a hell of a lot of answers.

      Perhaps this is one way for us to get some answers on Mout Polley…

  2. Absolutely there MUST be a Judicial Inquiry preferably out of province and without Wally Opal.
    These people must all be accountable for their neglect and lies in this matter, both government and the mining company.
    There should have never been permission to drain Polley Lake into the Quesnel system. As stated by Alexandra Morton from information by a local gentleman named Lionel, Polley lake was no higher than when heavy rains happen, there was no threat. Why wasn’t it pumped back into an immediately repaired pond?? or elsewhere.
    Who gave that permission??
    Why is there no attempt to clean the sludge, why aren’t they building a conveyer system to get it back up and into the pond, why are there no men on the ground cleaning this mess.Are they intending on letting it sit and with every rain wash more toxins into the system?
    Finally the question of all questions …. was this a purposeful act??
    The people of this province and especially those directly effected by this disaster need and deserve answers.

  3. We never have and we never will get completely honest information from Clark, Bennett, Polak or anyone else connected to this government’s dereliction of duty in this travesty or any other predicament they have involved themselves in.

    The list of their never ending lies during their tenure would fill a book and they have skillfully avoided any forum where they would be held to account for their misdeeds.

    Whether it be the financial corruption of BC Hydro, the exploitation of ICBC, the dispensing of BC Rail, the Basi-Virk affair, the Boss Power payoff, the ALR revisions, the so-called Run of the River hydro contracts, the LNG imbroglio, the duty to consult with First Nations pretense, the HST lie, the carbon tax fraud, the teachers dispute, the children and families in care ongoing antagonism, the necessity of the Portmann Bridge and other over-priced edifices, the myriad P3 schemes, the Site C charade, the Foreign Fish Farm fiascoes, and on and on and on ad infinitum.

    A Judicial Inquiry is surely the way to proceed, but who initiates it and what affect will it have on the outrageous behaviors of this government, and will it happen soon enough to be relevant?

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