The majority of the approximately 300 people who attended the Mount Polley Mine community meeting in Williams Lake Wednesday indicated they believe the mine should restart.
The meeting, which took place at the Gibraltar Room and saw a standing-room only crowd, marks the next phase of a public consultation process in which the company is seeking a temporary restart of the mine and a permit to discharge as much as six million cubic metres of treated water into the surrounding watershed annually.
During the question and answer period, whenever someone said they wanted the mine re-opened or praised Imperial Metal’s response to date, the crowd erupted into loud applause, whoops and hollers.
United Steelworkers Union leader Paul French said the feelings of shock and disbelief workers had when the breach occurred on Aug. 4, eventually turned to anger with people pointing fingers.
Now those feelings have reached a stage of fear, he said, referring to potential job loss.
“We need to fix the creek, fix the water and get back to where we were nine months ago,” French said.
Several First Nations women, however, voiced vehement opposition to a restart.
Holding a feather and wearing an orange Every Child Matters T-shirt, Rose Marie Jack of Canoe Creek said the Creator has delegated her people to take care of the land.
Beginning to weep, Jack said she didn’t have any right to stand before everyone and talk.
“I should be crawling underground, that’s how much respect and dignity I get as a First Nations person,” Jack said.
Her comments received sparse applause.
Canim Lake Indian Band member and Williams Lake Indian Band resident April Thomas said no to the mine restart, adding her people never had the opportunity to vote on the mine in the first place.
“I’d like to know what the government and Imperial Metals are going to do to uphold our Aboriginal rights to be consulted?” Thomas asked.
Responding, Imperial Metals vice-president of corporate affairs Steve Robertson said Imperial Metals has signed Impact Benefit Agreements with Soda Creek and Williams Lake Indian Band.
“This is a democratic process and you do have the opportunity to vote by putting your comments into the ministries that will be issuing the permits,” Robertson said.
Amy Sandy, meanwhile, wondered why the company couldn’t use insurance money to pay for the mitigation work rather than relying on the profits of a restart.
Share the Cariboo Chilcotin Resources Society chair Bill Carruthers said the mine should restart because Imperial Metals has demonstrated an understanding of what it must do mitigate the situation.
Describing the breach as the greatest dam failure of the 20th century, mine employee Nicholas Bergeron said he was proud of the repair work at the site.
“It’s something that’s never been done and we did it in 100 days, 10 days ahead of schedule, without any uncontrolled water released into the environment,” Bergeron said.
WLIB councillor Rick Gilbert received loud applause when he said the mine should re-open, however, he stressed it shouldn’t happen until all the cleanup is completed.
“We have to ensure this never happens again and that’s a big job,” Gilbert said. “The breach could have been prevented if some of the signs were paid attention to in the past.”
Imperial Metals outlined its water management options for the short-term.
“You seem worried about letting the water go into the water table so what do we have here?” Sage Birchwater asked. “How clean is the water when it’s treated?”
Golder Associates environmental scientist Lee Nikl explained the water is “quite” clean, compared to mine water around the world and the water prior to the breach passed all the toxicity tests.
Hubert Bunce of the Ministry of Environment, encouraged people to e-mail any concerns about the restart and water discharge plans by the May 2, deadline to MtPolleyMinePermit@gov.bc.ca or firstname.lastname@example.org.