An estimated 300 people attended a rally in Boitanio Park Tuesday in support of reopening Mount Polley Mine.
The rally was held on the anniversary of the mine disaster Aug. 4, 2014 that spilled millions of cubic metres of tailings and water into Hazeltine Creek, Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake instantly closing the mine.
“When we found out there was absolute shock,” said United Steeworkers Local 1-425 president Paul French. “No one could believe it had happened and the devastation it actually did. When I first went out there I thought ‘holy moly this can never get cleaned up’ but it did.”
French credited Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett’s efforts, insisting a lot of the remediation work would have never happened without her.
“When the breach happened there was a USW convention in Las Vegas and there was no expertise around to help me out so I called Donna,” French said.
The two met with Premier Christy Clark and secured a commitment from Imperial Metals, Mount Polley Mine and the government to have the employees of the mine do the remediation work.
“With that the cleanup started, all the fears of the contamination got cured, and while we’re not going to know what all the doomsday fears will be for another four years, we believe right now everything is going as planned.”
The amount of work done by the employees to restore Hazeltine Creek is overwhelming, French added.
“They went from mining to almost being landscapers.”
It is still difficult for the workers who have kept their jobs because so many have been laid off, he added.
“This rally today is to let people in our area know that people are still not employed and the mine itself has an impact on all the communities around us.”
French also emphasized the role of the Williams Lake and Soda Creek Indian Bands in the aftermath of the spill.
“They are the group sitting out there being the watch dogs to make sure government is doing what it’s supposed to be doing and that Mount Polley Mine does what it says it’s going to do,” French said.
With the First Nations, who have no bias except to protect the land, watching what’s being done, the mine can restart, he added.
The idea for the rally was proposed by Adrian Monks, a laid off equipment operator from the mine.
“I came up with the idea but I didn’t do all the work,” Monks said. “I would like to thank everyone for coming out, this beats my expectations by a long shot.”
Monks thanked Dairy Queen for the food, Cariboo GM for the barbecues, and union workers for helping serve up free hamburgers, hotdogs and dessert to everyone in attendance.
The band Busted Remedy also played.
“We are here to support 200 unemployed mine workers and we want everybody to go back to work as quickly and safely as possible,” Monks said.
Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said it has been a privilege to work hand in hand with the mine, the ministries and the union.
“The Ministry of Mines and Environment staff have been on top of this mine because they realize how important it is to the environment, the economy and the families,” Barnett said.
Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes commended Mayor Walt Cobb for his “spectacular” job sending the message that the Cariboo region needs the jobs at the mine.
“We need the rest of the folks working,” Oakes said. “We are prepared to make sure we are committed to working alongside with you, making sure we are protecting the environment, but making sure the rest of B.C. knows in the Cariboo we need these jobs.”
Organizers said they served about 320 hamburgers and dozens of hotdogs, and estimated between 300 to 400 people came and went through the two hours.