Mount Polley disaster- More misinformation than facts

Mount Polley disaster: More misinformation than facts

Mount Polley disaster- More misinformation than facts
Likely resident Lawna Bourassa displays cloudy water taken from the shore of Quesnel Lake (Damien Gillis)

Since day one the claim has been that the tailings flowing from Mount Polley mine’s breached dam were “stopped”, yet one month after the BC Day Disaster occurred, the Ministry of Environment found Mount Polley to be “out of compliance”, and on September 9 – fully 5 days later – issued an “advisory letter” pleading that the company do more to bring the tailings discharge to a halt.

This pattern of misinformation permeates virtually every significant piece of information related to the disaster.

From conflicting data on the status of the drinking water to what exactly the clean up plan entails and how it’s being paid for, plain lies and misinformation seem to rule the day.

Scale of disaster significantly downplayed from get-go

At first, the total release was 14.5 million cubic metres but weeks later, after the story had played out on front pages and was winding down, the company quietly released on its website that in fact the new revised volume is some some 78%larger, making it the largest disaster of its kind anywhere in the world – ever – as first reported here at The Common Sense Canadian the day Christy Clark arrived in Likely with media in tow.

Imperial Metals raises $115 million…but not committed to cleanup

Remarkably however, in mere days, Imperial metals raised 115 million dollars in a “private placement” issuance of a convertible debenture, of which the company’s two largest shareholders purchased near 75% – with an interest rate of at least 6%. Meaning the mine’s primary owners and largest stakeholders are already seeing returns on this disaster, before the tailings even stop flowing! And the kicker?  The money raised is not even committed to clean up as was first trumpeted by the company and media.

The players behind Mount Polley raised 115 million dollars before they even stopped the tailings discharge, and it’s mostly to ensure liquidity to shore up a new mine development known as Red Chris that was relying on the cash flow from the massive increases in production at Mount Polley – until the levee broke. While the toxic tailings flowed, the cash flow to that project ceased.

No real cleanup has started

The company no longer hosts weekly town hall meetings and has now switched to “open houses” with no more dinner for the locals. It’s designed only to keep them updated. On what exactly, no one is sure, as no money has actually been committed to cleanup, no cleanup has started and no cleanup plan has been presented to the public – even though the government received the demanded plan by the due date of August 15th.

The company met this August 15th deadline and, in so doing, avoided any fines or penalties – however, no one knows what was actually submitted to the government, outside of a small circle of ministry bureaucrats.

September 10 is the first of the ” open houses” and there are requests that they be filmed and posted online, as many people impacted are outside of the small town of Likely and unable to attend. These people deserve to know what is happening and be told straight-up facts.

There are many questions left unanswered thus far. The following list is a good start for the September 10 “open house” – or feel free to take these and any other questions you may have directly to the government and company responsible.

Questions for Government and Industry

  • Is it true you intend to drain Polley Lake for 100 days? Would that not make it impossible to start Hazeltine Creek cleanup until spring, as 100 days delays any access until winter?
  • How much, if any, of the 115 million dollar debenture is committed to actual cleanup?
  • Mount Polley’s two major shareholders purchased 80 million dollars of the 115 million dollar debenture – what exactly is the return on the 40 million dollar investment Mr. Edward’s finance company “Edco” alone will receive?
  • When will the “cleanup plan” submitted to the Ministry of Environment on August 15th be available for public review?
  • Have you been fined or otherwise penalized by any level of government as a result of this BC Day “incident?”
  • How high was the dam when it failed?
  • How do you calculate the amount of tailings and water that was released in total?
  • Have you broken any laws in BC and Canada as a result of the release of this amount of pollution?
  • Are there any laws, statutes or Acts in BC and Canada demanding that you disclose everything that may have been released in this disastrous tailing storage facility (TSF) failure?
  • Will you release the results and all related data of the three-year scientific study undertaken between 2009 and 2012 dealing with the bioremediation of your tailings pond?
  • How much effluent has been released from this tailings pond prior to the disaster and for how long? What standards did this effluent meet prior to being released?
  • Is it true that Imperial is paying for the three member “Independent Review Panel” appointed by the Minister of Mines? Are they also paying for the Conservation Officers’ review, as well as the Privacy Commissioner’s review?
  • How many, if any, foreign temporary workers did Mount Polley employ and what were they responsible for?
  • What exactly is SNC Lavalin’s role as a “sponsor” of the cleanup “project” as noted on your website, and are they invested in the 115 million dollar debenture the company recently issued?
  • Who exactly have you contracted to undertake the cleanup thus far?
  • Will you provide a complete list of all TSF incidents, breaches and seepages, or any other out of the ordinary “incidents” for the twelve months immediately prior to the catastrophic failure?
  • Did you require any approvals, permits or even acknowledgement of your intention to dramatically increase production at the mine at anytime over the last twelve months?
  • Are there any laws at any level of government to which you must adhere in terms of compensating those impacted by the release of  your tailings in this disaster?
  • Will the company or ministry disclose the letters written by the former employee referred to in this story?

About Kevin Logan

Kevin Logan's career has been diverse, ranging from small business to NGOs through finance and government. Early on, he operated the research department for the Vancouver branch of international brokerage Richardson Greenshields. After leaving the finance industry he owned operated small businesses and eventually established a consulting company which contracts with both the private and public sectors. He served as a ministerial assistant to numerous ministers and a premier in the former BC NDP Administration. Kevin is also an independent researcher and writer who has administered many diverse and successful campaigns.