Irate residents pounded Mines Minister Bill Bennett and Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch, and other government officials with questions during a public meeting in Likely Tuesday afternoon.
The key question being asked was, why after so many warnings about excess tailings, was this problem not fixed?
USW Local 1-425 president Bob McNair, who represents the mine employees, said the ministry has known about the tailings pond risks for years and now it’s too late.
“I tried for two and a half months to get a hold of someone from ministry of mines; when I finally did get a response the individual told me the government of the day has cut our department so bad that we’re hardly getting in to do any inspections,” McNair said.
Former mine foreman Gerald MacBurney, also reported on mine infractions he had witnessed.
“The last inspection was in May when the water was too high and they should’ve stopped it then,” MacBurney said.
Along with the excess tailings, MacBurney said the ministry also ignored a previous recommendation that an inspection on the structural integrity of the tailings pond be conducted back in 2011.
Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Ann Louie said The Soda Creek and Williams Lake Indian Bands commissioned environmental consultants in 2011 to report on the tailings pond and their warnings were basically ignored by the company.
In his report for the bands, Brian Olding, recommended that a structural engineering company be involved to inspect the geotechnical integrity of the tailings pond structure.
“Somewhere along the line we have to firm up the mining laws so that maybe these companies only make a few million instead of a billion,” Xatsull First Nations Chief Bev Sellars said. “They’ll still supply jobs but they will be safe.”
Local residents at the meeting also criticized the mine for not having any contingency plan in case of a tailings pond failure.
“Basically you guys were taking a gamble and we were the poker chips,” said an angry Likely resident.
“I don’t wanna live here anymore,” said another visibly distraught man.
A complete fog of uncertainty currently surrounds Mt. Polley employees at the moment regarding their job status.
“I’ve been inundated with employees coming into the union office asking questions like ‘I never got a lay off notice, do we look for another job? What do we do?,” McNair said.
Kynoch said that within a few days the company will come up with a plan of action for the cleanup. He said the job will be enormous and require a huge number of workers including current mine employees.
“All I’m asking for is a bit of time to know where we’re going. I promise to do my damnedest to get back operating and get them back to work,” Kynock said.