First Nations respond to Mount Polley report

After carefully taking time to review the report on the Mount Polley Tailings Storage Facility Breach that was undertaken by an independent expert engineering investigation and review panel and released Friday, First Nations leaders shared their insights during a press conference in Vancouver Tuesday.

“Last week I personally thanked the three panelists for their diligent efforts and want to ensure that all their recommendations are implemented," said Chief Bev Sellars from the Xat’sull First Nation. "Our next step is to use our collective efforts to create a new mining industry that protects the environment while providing social and economic opportunities for everyone.”

The day before the report was released, members of Xat'sull First Nation and Williams Lake Indian Band along with government ministry officials met with the panel.

WLIB Chief Ann Louie said the two communities have engaged directly with the provincial government in a letter of understanding to jointly oversee all aspects of the decisions related to Mount Polley.

“Safety has a price and these companies have to quit taking shortcuts that prove disastrous," Louie said.

The 150-page report sends a clear message to the mining industry around the world that such disasters are avoidable and unacceptable, Louie added.

"We were very fortunate no one was killed or injured," Louie told the Tribune. "Workers had been there just hours before the breach occurred."

Six recommendations made by the panel must be implemented in their entirety plus the First Nations priorities, the leaders said as they reminded that business as usual cannot continue in B.C.

“For the sake of our grandchildren we cannot accept six more tailings breaches in the next 30 years”, said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

The engineering experts conclude that clearly multiple failure modes (undetected weakness in the foundation, overtopping and internal erosion) were all in progress…all of which were on their respective failure pathways.

It went on to say the company had adopted a minimum factor of safety in operations and closure.

“While mining is an important industry and provides jobs for many it cannot be at the expense of the environment or public safety," Grand Chief Edward John from the First Nations Summit said.  "The best available technology (not the best practices standard) is required for existing and future mines instead of water/tailings storage and the use of lakes.”

Chief Maureen Chapman, board member for the BC Assembly of First Nations said the B.C. government has stated that they will take a leadership role to ensure an environmental crisis like Mount Polley never happens again.

"Not only will this mean implementing all of the Investigative Panel’s recommendations, but also committing to bold policy reforms which would see First Nations communities as partners in environmental regulation," Chapman said. "The Northern Shuswap Tribal Council mining policy is one of many examples where First Nations are taking the lead by developing Nation-based regulations to govern resource activities on their traditional territories."


With files from Union of BC Indian Chiefs


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