Hundreds of devastated Likely residents crammed into the community hall Tuesday afternoon looking for answers into Monday’s devastating tailings pond breach at the Mount Polley mine.
The breach of the four-kilometre long pond caused an outflow of 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of suspended solids into Polley Lake which then outflowed into Hazeltine Creek.
Hazeltine Creek, which residents say you could jump over, is now a 50-metre wide pool of slurry and muck that has cut its own canyon winding its way to Quesnel Lake.
Water warnings are currently in effect for Quesnel Lake, Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek, Cariboo Creek and the Quesnel River up to its intersection with the Fraser River.
The outflow also resulted in hundreds of fallen trees stripped completely of their branches being pushed into Quesnel Lake, forming giant floating log clusters. Since then local tugboat operator Gerry Mitzel and Wally Veitch secured 80 per cent of the debris with a log boom, much to the relief of Likely residents who were concerned the logs could wipe out the Likely bridge.
Officials including Mines Minister Bill Bennett and Imperial Metals President Brian Kynoch spent more than two hours fielding questions from concerned citizens at the meeting.
Bennett gave his deepest condolences and pledges that the province will do all in its power to help.
“I wish I didn’t have to be here, I’m personally really sorry about what’s happened here. I know why you live in Likely because in a similar place in the Kootenays, I’ve spent the last six weeks, three hours out of cell service, and I know why you chose to live here and its because of the clean water and the fresh air and the birds and the animals and I have a lot of respect for that,” said Bennett.
“From the moment that we found out about this, we got our officials and experts on site and we are doing an investigation that will be thorough and we will find out what happened and why that dam breached.”
Bennett said he doesn’t ever recall the breach of a tailings pond ever happening in the province so there is no particular blueprint to follow on how to deal with the situation.
Crews are out continually testing the water which will then be processed in Williams Lake and sent to Vancouver, Bennett said. The highly anticipated results were expected to start coming in yesterday.
The risk of metal contaminates in the water and how it will affect things like salmon will take time before the full impact is known.
“This is bad no matter how you cut it, it’s a question of how bad is it. We have to continue to test water regularly before we know,” Bennett said. “I’m hoping that because this mine is not an acid generating mine that maybe we won’t see toxic contamination. Nobody knows what the impact is of this. We will know fairly soon and the people of Likely will be the first to know.”
Effective Thursday the Ministry of Environment said salmon fishing is banned from the Cariboo River from the confluence of the Quesnel River to the confluence of Seller Creek; and the Quesnel River downstream of Poquette Creek.
With the peak migration of sockeye salmon in the Quesnel waterways system (Quesnel, Horsefly and Mitchell Rivers) expected in about two weeks the timing of the spill couldn’t have been worse.
In what was supposed to be a rebound year for B.C. sockeye salmon with forecasts predicting up to three million in the Quesnel waterways, is now in doubt.