Rosanne and Stan Siemens of Quesnel were boating on Quesnel Lake and couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw the massive debris pile from the breach of the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond.

Rosanne and Stan Siemens of Quesnel were boating on Quesnel Lake and couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw the massive debris pile from the breach of the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond.

Likely residents fear the worst after Mount Polley Mine disaster

A pall of uncertainty hangs over Likely as a total breach in the Mount Polley tailings pond continues to pour Quesnel Lake.

A pall of uncertainty hangs over Likely as a total breach in the Mount Polley tailings pond continues to pour a slurry of toxic water and mud into Quesnel Lake, once renowned for being the cleanest deep water lake in the world.

In the early hours of August 4, the four-kilometre-long dam containing the tailings pond of the copper and gold mine burst, sending millions of tons of contaminated water, mud and mining slurry into the salmon-bearing water system.

Hazeltine Creek, previously a stream two metres wide, is now a wasteland 50 metres across, after five million cubic metres of effluent flooded into nearby Polley Lake and carved its own canyon several kilometres in length to Quesnel Lake.

Eye-witnesses to the devastation, Stan and Rosanne Siemens of Quesnel, were boating on the East Arm of Quesnel Lake. When they turned the corner on their way back to Likely they could hardly believe their eyes. A mile down the lake a floating mass of twisted trees stretched half way across the lake.

“It’s rude up there,” Stan Siemens says. “Half way across the lake trees were sticking straight up. I’m a logger and it would take us a year to take that many trees down, and this happened in 20 minutes.”

The land is destroyed, Rosanne Siemens adds. “Raft Creek is a river now. It’s all mud.”

**********

VIDEO: Mount Polley Mine Tailings Pond Breach (August 4, 2014)

**********

A toxic plume continues to build in the lake and move down the outflow into the Quesnel River at Likely. Before nightfall the water advisory for Likely had been expanded for the whole Quesnel River system to the City of Quesnel on the Fraser River.

Robin Hood, president of the Likely Chamber of Commerce, is grim as his wife, Darlene, hands out water advisory notices to people recreating on the shore of the river.

“The whole economy of this town (Likely) is dependent on the mine and tourism,” Hood says. “Now we might have lost both overnight.”

Sitting in the shade on the porch of Likely’s general store, 28-year-old Kalvin King is checking the Internet on his smartphone.

He’s from Horsefly but has a placer claim above Quesnel Forks. He’s been working four days and was going to jump in the lake and go for a swim before he got the water advisory.

“I haven’t had a shower for four days so I’m pretty hot,” says Kalvin, who describes himself as a guy who’s not very concerned about anything.

“I’ve worked at both Mount Polley and Gibraltar so I know what stuff is in the tailings ponds. It’s there for a good reason and it’s supposed to stay there and not leave. It’s an environmental disaster.”

He says he’ll probably go back to Horsefly for his shower.

Placer miner, Chris Fournier, 45, pulls up to the gas pumps of the store in his quad ATV. He lives down river from the townsite and washed his face in the river and had a drink before he heard of the breach and the water advisory.

“It tasted like sucking pennies,” he said.

He was fishing for Chinook salmon the day before in the Cariboo River and is worried about the effect on the various salmon runs making their way up the Fraser River.

He said workers at Mount Polley Mine warned him that the tailings pond was going to breach. “And it did.”

Aileen Peterson, owner of Valley General Store in Likely for eight years, said the water level on Quesnel Lake behaved strangely.

“It went up and then down and few feet. We got a call at 6 a.m. that everybody had to take their boats out of the water.”

Robin Hood applauds the actions of Likely First Responders who woke him up at 5 a.m. and evacuated the Cedar Point Provincial Campsite over fears that the breach would cause a Tsunami.

“It’s better to err on the side of precaution,” he says.

For Likely pub owners Randy and Claudine Kadonaga, there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

“So far there are a lot of rumours,” says Randy. “We’re waiting to see what happens.”

“We don’t have anything to say until we know more,” adds Claudine. “We opened early on Monday and served a lot of breakfasts when they evacuated Cedar Point Park.”

Waiting in the balance is the plight of 500 employees of Mount Polley Mine.

Jamie Regier, who works for Ducks Unlimited, took one last dip in Quesnel River with his three-year-old daughter, Lauren, before the toxic debris reached Likely.

“I’m pretty shocked,” he said. “The entire impact is going to ruin this town. I have a lot of friends at Mount Polley, and it’s going to be shut down.”

An employee of Mount Polly Mine who was on shift the night of the breach and asked to remain anonymous, confirmed you can’t operate a mine without a tailings pond facility.

“Thank God nobody was killed or injured. If that breach would have occurred during the day with all the contract workers in the area, it wouldn’t have been so good.”

Rick Matthews, a former Moorhouse Lake resident, boated down Quesnel Lake to view the debris pile on Monday. He is worried that unless something is done, the mass of logs will get swept down the Quesnel River with devastating results.

“The floating island of logs is creeping towards Likely,” he says. “There needs to be damage control or it will pile up against the bridge and could take it out.”

**********

More video from the Cariboo Regional District’s Emergency Operations Centre…

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The body of Kenneth Seymour Michell was discovered Jan. 14, 2021, behind a Williams Lake business a day after he was released by a judge on conditions. (Photo submitted)
Family looks for answers after Indigenous man dies by suicide following release from custody

System does not care about Indigenous peoples, says First Nations Leadership Council

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Interior Health reported 43 new COVID-19 cases in the region Feb. 23, 2021 and no additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
43 new cases of COVID reported in Interior Health

No new deaths, Williams Lake outbreak over

A COVID-19 sign is seen last spring at the First Nations community of Canim Lake (Tsq’ scen). (Martina Dopf photo)
Another Canim Lake elder dies of COVID-19

The man was the husband of an elder who died last month outside the community.

Pink Shirt Day is Feb. 24.
This Pink Shirt Day let’s ‘lift each other up’

There are several warning signs regarding bullying:

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

When his owner had knee surgery, Kevin, 2, was able to continue to go for walks thanks to volunteers from Elder Dog Canada. (Contributed photo)
B.C. woman has nothing but praise for Elder Dog Canada

National organization has a fleet of volunteer walkers ready, but needs more clients to serve

Justin Morissette is still recovering from the injuries sustained in the altercation. He is not yet able to walk without assistance. (Justin Morissette, Twitter)
B.C. man suing city and police over violent altercation with anti-LGBTQ preacher

Justin Morissette argues police knew the threat the preacher posed, and failed to keep the peace

Jack Barnes, who was Cowichan Valley Capitals property from May 2020 until last week, scores a goal for the Penticton Vees during the 2019-20 BCHL season. (Brennan Phillips/Black Press)
COVID-crunched BCHL facing trade deadline dilemma with its 20-year-olds

Hard decisions loom when BCHL may or may not resume play

UBC Okanagan students are among the most food insecure in Canada, according to a new study by UBC.
(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
UBC Okanagan students among most food insecure in Canada

42.3 per cent either can’t properly feed themselves, or are worried they will soon run out of money

Oliver Elementary School. (File)
Interior Health reports potential COVID-19 exposure at South Okanagan elementary school

Interior Health lists two dates for the potential exposure

Most Read