Two years after the Mount Polley Mine breach, Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Ann Louie said the disaster was a wake-up call.
“It was a sad situation that caused a lot of damage to the area, but it woke the government up to realize there needs to be tougher legislation around all mining activity, not just Mount Polley,” Louie said.
In the early hours of B.C. Day holiday Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, the northern flank of the mine’s tailings impoundment failed.
During the subsequent hours about 17 million cubic metres of water and eight million cubic metres of tailings and mine waste spilled into nearby Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake.
Two years later the mine is running full time, the repaired tailings impoundment is in use and 333 people are back at work at the mine.
At the end of June 2016, the Mount Polley Mine Corp. submitted a draft technical report in advance of submitting a long-term water management plan and later this summer or fall it is anticipated the plan will be available for public comment.
Chief Louie said she and Xat’sull Chief Donna Dixon sit at the table with the provincial government and have been pushing for the mine code review that was tabled earlier in July by the Ministry of Energy and Mines.
“We have our technical team that works with the mine and government,” Louie said.
“When they apply for permits we are always in the background pushing to get the best out of them before a permit is issued.”
After the breach, Louie and former Xat’sull Chief Bev Sellars signed a letter of understanding with the government that has given them a foot in the door.
The technical team has also been insisting on the best outcome for the long-term water management plan.
“It was something we pushed for even before the breach,” Louie said.
“We still will expect the mine to do the best that it can. They have to be accountable for their actions.”
Doug Watt is a director on the Likely Chamber of Commerce.
He and his wife live on the shore of Quesnel Lake on Cedar Creek Road and their biggest concern continues to be the discharge of water from the mine site into Quesnel Lake.
“There is the possibility of it still impacting the quality of the lake,” Watt said.
The problem, he added, is the use of the lake water to dilute the discharged water to make it meet water quality standards.
“Quesnel Lake’s water quality is such higher quality than B.C. water quality guideline standards that in actual fact that means they are continuing to pollute Quesnel Lake and are changing the quality of the water of the lake.”
Watt said he and a group of concerned citizens have asked the mine for data from its instrument readings but to date the mine has not provided them with the information.
The disaster has impacted ecotourism in the area, Watt added.
“Friends and acquaintances I know who run businesses have seen an immediate sharp decline and disappearance. I also understand it has affected the sale of properties. People that have managed to sell have had to drop their values significantly and other people who were selling at the time, had deals disappear.”
Claudine Kadonaga and her husband Randy purchased the Likely Lodge in January 2014, opened it the May long weekend and the breach happened in August of that year.
“Tourism is up this year and with the mine going we are very busy,” Kadonaga said.
In the summer of 2015, 50 per cent of the tourists wanted to know how they could see the “disaster zone,” but this year so far not one person has asked — they are interested in the Gold Rush Trail and what the road is like to Barkerville or Horsefly, she said.
Likely community co-ordinator Lisa Kraus said during a community meeting on July 7, representatives covered some aspects of the Post Event Environmental Impact Assessment Report.
“Right now the lake is looking OK but one of our concerns is the greenish hue the lake is taking on that it didn’t have before the breach,” Kraus said.
Another one of Kraus’s concerns is the fact there hasn’t been a report done on the social and economic impact of the breach on the local community.
“People are still angry and are asking why is the water still that colour. And why are we getting heavy sediments in our water filter systems?”