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Investigation begins to find reasons for BC mine failure

LIKELY (NEWS1130) – The president of Imperial Metals has apologized to residents living downstream from a massive tailings pond breach at a gold and copper mine in the British Columbia Interior.

Brian Kynoch told about 200 residents of Likely, 600 kilometres northeast of Vancouver that the failure at the Mount Polley mine has been stabilized but the investigation is just beginning.

Despite assertions that the company had been warned of potential problems, Kynoch says the earthen dam that contained the slurry from the mining process had never before failed but he vowed the company will do what is necessary to “make it right.”

The breach released 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of toxic silt into Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake.

A ban remains in place on all consumption or recreational use of the Quesnel and Cariboo river systems from the spill site to the Fraser River, several hundred kilometres away.

The Cariboo Regional District declared a state of local emergency early Wednesday. The move will allow the District to access additional capacity that may be needed to further protect the private property and government infrastructure in Likely.

Chairman of the Cariboo Regional District, Al Richmond says the state of emergency doesn’t mean people in Likely need to do anything differently, but they still can’t drink or use the water.

“We’ll be working on trying to find some showering alternatives for the folks there who can’t use their water for showering or bathing, so.”

Richmond says tugs have been on Quesnel River and Lake trying to move debris further up.

“These are logs and various other debris that’s come down from the creek, from the spill, and some of that debris has escaped, and was a little larger than anticipated, so.”

Part of the goal in moving the debris is to prevent damage to a bridge that connects Likely with a route to Williams Lake.

River Conservationist Mark Angelo predicts it’ll take a very long time for the system to bounce back.

He’s especially concerned about potential impacts on sockeye salmon — adding the Quesnel Lake Watershed is a major gathering place for sockeye.

“So I worry about the extent that this spill could affect the lake as an example which acts as a nursery for sockeye in the very first stage of their life cycle, I worry about direct pollution of the water.”

He adds, “I worry about the potential for that toxic material, some of it to become embedded into sediments which in turn could affect the survival of salmon eggs, or the survival of young fish down the line.”

Angelo adds the entire aquatic ecosystem will be impacted.

He’s also concerned for small mammals that live near rivers, and larger animals like eagles, bears, and moose that depend on lakes and rivers.

Fishermen in Alaska say the breach reinforces their concerns about roughly one dozen Canadian mining projects planned for northwestern BC.

Southeast Alaskan commercial fishing leaders, First Nations and communities have issued a release saying if a similar incident happened at the proposed KSM Mine or any other of the planned mines, billion-dollar fishing and tourism industries on both sides of the Panhandle would be at risk.

The Alaska Trollers Association says Mount Polley’s tailings pond is miniscule when compared to the holding facilities proposed for the KSM mine, spanning two watersheds that produce runs of wild salmon vital to both the Canadian and US fishing fleets.