Damage from a tailings pond breach is seen near Likely, B.C., Tuesday, August 5, 2014. People are swimming and fishing in Quesnel Lake five years after the largest environmental mining disaster in Canadian history, but residents of Likely, B.C., are still struggling with unresolved emotions about what happened and who will be held accountable for the dam collapse at the Mount Polley mine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Damage from a tailings pond breach is seen near Likely, B.C., Tuesday, August 5, 2014. People are swimming and fishing in Quesnel Lake five years after the largest environmental mining disaster in Canadian history, but residents of Likely, B.C., are still struggling with unresolved emotions about what happened and who will be held accountable for the dam collapse at the Mount Polley mine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Mount Polley mine disaster five years later; emotions, accountability unresolved

A 2014, collapse sent 24 million cubic metres of mine waste into Quesnel Lake, Hazeltine Creek

People are swimming and fishing in Quesnel Lake five years after the largest environmental mining disaster in Canadian history, but residents of Likely, B.C., are still struggling with unresolved emotions about what happened and who will be held accountable for the dam collapse at the Mount Polley mine.

A five-year deadline for federal Fisheries Act charges expired Sunday, while the possibility of other charges under the same act remains with no timeline for a decision. British Columbia missed the three-year deadline to proceed with charges under both the province’s Environmental Management Act and Mines Act.

Likely resident Lisa Kraus said the central B.C. community of about 350 people remains wounded, concerned and somewhat divided about the tailings dam breach at the Imperial Metals open-pit copper and gold mine.

The Aug. 4, 2014, collapse sent 24 million cubic metres of mine waste into Quesnel Lake, Hazeltine Creek and other area waterways.

An independent report into the disaster said the dam was built on a sloped glacial lake, weakening its foundation. It said the inadequate design of the dam didn’t account for drainage or erosion failures associated with glacial till beneath the pond.

One independent geotechnical engineer described the location and design of the tailings pond as loading a gun and pulling the trigger.

Kraus said she’s not convinced that charges would satisfy area residents.

“I don’t know that the people who are still so angry would be happy with that or not,” she said. “There’s still the feeling for some that they’re not saying everything and they’re not telling us all the truths. I don’t like everything that happened but I’m a neutral party.”

Kraus said even though she’s made fish and chips from trout recently caught in Quesnel Lake, she doesn’t drink the water.

“Will I put my cup in the lake again, I don’t know,” she said. “Before that day I did. I haven’t done that since.”

READ MORE: Five years after Mount Polley Mine breach, resident still feels ‘angry, betrayed’

Imperial Metals suspended operations in January at Mount Polley over declining copper prices. More than 350 people worked at the mine.

The firm said the suspension would not impact ongoing environmental and remediation work at the Mount Polley site.

An Imperial Metals spokesman did not return a request for comment, but the company’s website includes a July 29 update about the cleanup written by the firm’s former chief scientific officer.

“While this tailings spill incident was very unfortunate, and significant in terms of sheer size, the environmental impacts have fortunately not been as dire as many had feared,” said Lyn Anglin, in the B.C. online publication Resource Works.

Anglin says the company undertook reclamation work in salmon and trout waterways, including Edney Creek, Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake. It also included comments that geochemical studies of mine tailings at the bottom of Quesnel Lake are physically and chemically stable and not releasing metals into the water.

Tests conducted by B.C. officials after the disaster also said water quality met provincial guidelines.

The Department of Environment and Climate Change Canada, which enforces the Fisheries Act, said in a statement that Crown counsel has been conducting a charge assessment related to the breach since last April, but there is no date for a decision and no further comment was available.

Julia Kilpatrick, a spokeswoman for Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, said Canadians can be assured that the government won’t hesitate to enforce its environmental laws.

“The fact that five years has elapsed since the incident occurred does not preclude the commencement of prosecution proceedings under the Fisheries Act,” she said in a statement.

Mining Watch Canada spokesman Ugo Lapointe said if the federal government does not proceed with charges this weekend, it could be a long wait.

“We have a deficient enforcement regime for cases like these,” said Lapointe, adding it could be another two or three years before there is any resolution.

“The Fisheries Act, which is supposed to protect Canadian waters and fish habitat, is not working,” he said. “We haven’t seen any charges laid by any level of government for the largest mining spill in Canadian history. It’s very disconcerting to witness the situation.”

Lapointe said he suspects federal prosecution officials are wrestling with deciding whether they can prove there was negligence or knowledge that the tailing’s pond location and design could fail.

“Proving damages is the easy part,” he said. “What’s difficult to prove is was there a total lack of due diligence on the part of the operators. They need to prove that the operator did not do all it should have done to prevent this beyond any reasonable doubt.”

Imperial Metals lawsuit against several engineering firms alleging negligence and breach of contract was settled out of court last year, resulting in the company receiving about $108 million.

Engineers and Geoscientists BC, the regulatory body for engineers in the province, said it has a May 2020 disciplinary hearing scheduled for engineer Todd Martin and is confirming hearing dates for engineers Stephen Rice and Laura Fidel in connection with the collapse of the Mount Polley dam.

Michelle Mungall, B.C.’s Minister of Energy and Mines, said the disaster sent shock waves through the mining industry worldwide.

“It was a big lesson,” she said. “It’s a lesson of what happens when you don’t have a good regulatory regime.”

Mungall said the disaster was the impetus for the B.C. government’s $20 million investment this year to hire 65 safety and enforcement officials and implement changes to the mine permit approval process.

She said the changes were based on the 25 recommendations of a task force report by auditor general Carol Bellringer.

“We’ve put more boots, more eyes on the ground,” said Mungall.

She said she expects the government to introduce regulations this fall that ensure mining companies have money set aside to pay for reclamation work.

Back in Likely, Kraus said she’ll look out her window Sunday morning and think back to five years ago.

“That’s something you won’t forget, waking up and being told that this has happened and hearing the rush of the water and knowing this plume is potentially coming down the lake,” she said.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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

Just Posted

Williams Lake Lions Club members will be hosting a battery recycling drive on Earth Day, April 22 at the corner of Oliver Street and Third Avenue from 2 to 5 p.m. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake Lions Club hosting recycle battery event on Earth Day

Keeping heavy metals out of landfills reason enough to think differently about recycling batteries

A two-hectare fire is burning between Canim Lake and Hawkins Lake. (Photo submitted).
Firefighters battling two-hectare blaze near Hawkins Lake

Black smoke can be seen in Forest Grove.

Brette Kerley and Pyper Alexander, who both played their early minor hockey careers in Williams Lake and are now players for the Prince George-based Northern Capitals, will both be continuing their careers next season as post-secondary players. (Photo submitted)
Alexander, Kerley, looking forward to university hockey careers

Brette Kerley, Pyper Alexander excited about move on to next level in hockey careers

Williams Lake resident Richard Norman (front) is thankful for the recent addition of a motorized grocery cart at Save-On-Foods allowing him and other low-mobility residents to more freely get around the store. Pictured from Save-On-Foods are store manager Mark Moyes (back from left) and assistant store managers Harrison Rose and Matt Sidor. (Greg Sabatino photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Resident thankful for another low-mobility shopping option in lakecity

Save-On-Foods adds motorized grocery cart for shoppers’ use

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood, this includes protecting one’s home by moving equipment and other assets from these areas to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-normal spring flood season

High-streamflow advisory issued for the Cariboo Region and areas including Williams Lake, Quesnel and Prince George

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

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

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Local carpenter Tyler Bohn embarked on a quest to create the East Sooke Treehouse, after seeing people build similar structures on a Discovery Channel show. (East Sooke Treehouse Facebook photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. carpenter builds fort inspired by TV’s ‘Treehouse Masters’

The whimsical structure features a wooden walking path, a loft, kitchen – and is now listed on Airbnb

The Attorney General’s Ministry says certain disputes may now be resolved through either a tribunal or the court system, pending its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that reduced the tribunal’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Court of Appeal grants partial stay in ruling on B.C. auto injuries

B.C. trial lawyers challenged legislation brought in to cap minor injury awards and move smaller court disputes to the Civil Resolution Tribunal

An Extinction Rebellion Vancouver Island (XRVI) climate change event in 2019 saw a large crowd occupy the Johnson Street bridge. Black Press File Photo
‘In grief for our dying world’: B.C. climate activists embark on 4-day protest

Demonstrators will walk through Vancouver for the first two days before boarding a ferry Sunday morning

Most Read