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Many were shocked when the tailings pond burst at the Mount Polley Mine at 3:45 a.m. Monday, sending five million cubic metres of effluent across a wide swath of B.C.’s central interior.
But environmental consultant Brian Olding says he knew the pond needed a structural analysis to ensure the environmental safety of the region. That’s why Olding recommended one in the report he submitted to Imperial Metals (III-T), the Williams Lake Indian Band, the Soda Creek Indian Band and the B.C. Ministry of the Environment.
“We wanted a structural analysis done. We wanted ground water monitoring done. We wanted a traditional use study of the First Nations in the area done. That was not accepted by the parties involved,” said Olding in an interview with BNN.
According to Olding, this was the first time such a report was commissioned by an aboriginal community and a mining company.
Wastewater from Imperial Metal’s copper and gold mines has already caused the evacuation of local campgrounds, and a water use and consumption ban in Likely, B.C.
Many details remain unknown, including what led to the collapse of the earth dam or how severe the environment damage will be. While Olding was able to look at the samples from the pond, the consistency of the sediment resting on the bottom that flooded across several lakes and rivers is largely a mystery.
“What we did is focus on the water quality of the effluent that was coming out of the mine and going into the Hazeltine Creek and down into the lake. What we really needed is a detailed mine effluent strategy,” said Olding.
Ann Louie, Chief of the Williams Lake Indian Band is in and out of meetings trying to understand the impact of what she said is a “massive disaster for our people.”
“It’s impossible to contain it. There is nothing they can do. Absolutely nothing,” she told BNN.
Louie has already received reports of dead fish floating along the edges of local waterways. She worries about the salmon that were starting to spawn in Quesnel Lake, and wonders if the effluent will reach the Fraser River.
Olding says that the spill will affect the entire food chain in the region.
“We don’t know what kind of vegetation is eventually going to come out of that sediment and what kind of animals will be grazing on it, and what Indians and non-aboriginal people are going to be hunting the animals that have been consuming that,” he said.
Louie says she’s never seen a spill this bad in her life, and hopes the incident will set a new precedent for safety.
“I think it has the potential to affect this mine, the future of this mine, and all future mining in the province of British Columbia,” she said.