It has been just over one month since the Mount Polley tailings pond breach, and Imperial Metals vice-president Steve Robertson reports there is much cleanup work underway.
“Winter is just around the corner,” Robertson said Tuesday. “We are trying to get as much work done as we can before the weather turns. We have as many people working in the area as we can at this point.”
Of immediate concern, Robertson said, is completing work to reduce any risks to human health.
One of those risks includes large wood debris in Quesnel Lake, some of which has been barged to West Fraser’s reload area for sorting and trucking.
Robertson said the debris, which is a hazard to boaters in the lake, is continuing to be collected in the water while some areas on land have had to wait as the company awaits permits to work in archaeologically sensitive areas.
“There is still a lot of shore clean up that needs to be done,” he said, noting Mitchell Bay was hit particularly hard by debris.
Building a dyke to secure the remaining tailings within the breached storage facility was another immediate issue, Robertson said. That work is now one week from completion and will allow workers to safely be in the Hazeltine Creek area.
Robertson said water tests continue to be conducted on a regular basis and have never shown a risk to human safety.
“The good thing about Mount Polley is the tailings are not very toxic,” Robertson explained, noting during the 17 years the mine has been operating the metals in the mine tailings have proven within a closed system to not be very susceptible to leaching.
“The (most significant) environmental impact (from the breach) was the scouring event,” he said of the damage caused when the breach burst down the mountain taking the forests surrounding Hazeltine Creek with it.
“I don’t want to minimize it, but the long term effects on the environment will be relatively low,” Robertson said. “It’s not going to be as dire as people have said.”
That being said, the company is providing water filtration systems for residents west of Cariboo Island to upstream of the Quesnel Lake Research Centre due to TSS (total suspended solids) plumes which have been seen in Quesnel Lake in recent weeks.
Robertson said the plume is at depth in Quesnel Lake since the breach and is being brought to the surface in plumes as the lake turns over and flushes it out.
Additionally, workers have been trying to drain Polley Lake to reduce the risk of it breaching its blocked outlet since taking on an additional six million cubic metres of water during the breach.
Robertson said the company has also stepped up its research by bringing in two vessels and research teams which will map the bottom of the lake, take samples at various depths and compile the information and complete modelling to predict future outcomes. The west arm of Quesnel Lake is the focus of all the work, he noted.
Imperial Metals is hosting another of its regular town hall meetings in Likely this week to discuss the ongoing work mentioned above.
The meeting is expected to get underway at 7 p.m. Wednesday and will be in the format of an open house with government agencies also in attendance.
Robertson said they are releasing details of their plans surrounding the cleanup as they can, however, Imperial Metals is expected to submit a detailed plan to government by Sept. 15.
Roberson wouldn’t comment on the likelihood of whether the mine could reopen, however, he said he is not ignoring the calls from the union and others to reopen the mine.
“Until we have the investigation complete … it’s very difficult to talk about a plan (to reopen) … we have to take it one step at a time — this is a long path ahead of us.”