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Mount Polley mine disaster update

Contributor
By Contributor
August 10th, 2014

Government and Cariboo Regional District (CRD) officials continue to work together to address the breach at the Mount Polley tailings pond, to test the local drinking water to determine if it is safe for locals to drink or bathe in, and to help ensure the safety and well-being of local residents.

This factsheet will be updated daily with the latest information available.

New today:

  1. Water samples taken from the shore of Polley Lake on Aug. 7, 2014, have been tested and are very close to historical levels prior to the breach of the tailings pond. Based on the encouraging water sample results from Polley Lake, the Province and Interior Health (IH) have given the green light to Imperial Metals to use a discharge pipe to divert the build-up of water in Polley Lake into Hazeltine Creek. The water will then flow downstream into Quesnel Lake where it will be tested daily.
  2. As of this morning, Imperial Metals has now begun pumping water from Polley Lake into Hazeltine Creek and down to Quesnel Lake.
    By controlling this release as water as soon as possible, it will significantly lower the potential risk of another breach. An uncontrolled release of the stored water in Polley Lake could cause additional risks to human health and a further delay in possible rescinding of the drinking water advisory currently in place.
  3. Additionally, Ministry of Environment water samples taken on Aug. 6, 2014, from six locations in Quesnel River and Quesnel Lake have been tested and confirm all samples from these two water sources meet provincial and federal drinking water guidelines for a third straight day.
  4. Despite these encouraging results from the Imperial Mine’s tests, the DO NOT USE Order by the Regional Medical Health Officer remains in place until corroborating independent Ministry of Environment sample results from Polley Lake are reviewed by all parties involved. These are expected within the next two days.
  5. The CRD has issued an Order to Restrict Access to the Mount Polley Mine area to help ensure public safety. Mine employees and government officials are exempt. Mt. Polley staff have said they will use their personnel to secure and control entry into the area.
  6. Portable showers have been installed at the Likely Forestry camp site and are now open for residents and visitors to use.
  7. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources (FLNRO) is working with Imperial Metals to provide appropriate permitting for woody debris removal and disposal.
  8. FLNRO also has its wildlife team available to investigate reported wildlife concerns.

Current situation:

  • The flow out of the breach has decreased dramatically, but has not completely stopped. Imperial Metals currently is building a temporary dike to stop flow out of the pond.
  • During the initial breach of the tailings dam the bulk of the original flow created an unstable plug at the base of Polley Lake. The balance of the tailings and water went down Hazeltine Creek and deposited at the confluence of the creek and river. Hazeltine Creek was originally about four feet wide and is now up to 150 feet wide.
  • Imperial Mines has now begun pumping water out of Polley Lake both down Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake and back into Wight and Springer Pits, two open pits on the mine.Until further notice, the water quality advisory remains in place for communities that get their water from Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek, Cariboo Creek and all parts of Quesnel Lake, as well as the Quesnel River south of 6236 Cedar Creek Road. This includes the communities of Winkley Creek, Abbott Creek, Mitchell Bay and the East Arm of Quesnel Lake. Interior Health will continue to evaluate water samples as they arrive and will update the communities as more information becomes available. **Note: boiling will not help**
  • The state of local emergency (SOLE) remains in place, giving the CRD exceptional powers in the interest of ensuring public safety, allowing it to better enable an equitable distribution of potable water to the residents of Likely.
  • There have been no reports of injuries or people getting sick from drinking water. There have been no reports of property damage.
  • Three public showers, along with containers for potable and grey water, have arrived in Likely and are now functional.
  • The CRD Order to Restrict Access remain in effect until further notice and has been put into place to ensure public safety. Points that help define this area are located at the north end of Polley Lake, on the Bootjack Forest Service Road, on Gavin Lake Road and two points on the Horsefly Likely Road (Ditch Road). In addition, an area on Quesnel Lake near the mouth of the Hazeltine Creek is also restricted.
  • The cause of the breach is still unknown at this time. Ministry of Environment conservation officers are investigating the breach. Ministry of Energy and Mines mine inspectors also are investigating, two of whom have been monitoring the site by helicopter.
  • Tug boats continue to work in the area to boom the debris in the water and excavators are on standby in the event they are needed as well. Significant progress has been made.
  • The Province has established regular briefings with First Nations to ensure they are getting as much real-time information as possible.
  • Emergency Management BC (EMBC) and the CRD Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) are working together on response and recovery of this event. Government resource specialists are in the Likely area to support the EOC in Williams Lake. This team will co-ordinate site-level Provincial response and recovery activities in cooperation with Imperial Metals, the party responsible for site management.
  • The CRD EOC has offered that Mt. Polley position a liaison in the EOC in Williams Lake to help improve a co-ordinated response.
  • A Disaster Support team is available to offer local residents emotional support for their unique impacts and coping needs. These trained volunteers provide services to communities affected by emergencies and disasters. The CRD, EMBC and Provincial Health Services Association are co-ordinating this effort and will be making more information available to all impacted communities.
  • All costs associated with the cleanup of the breach are the responsibility of Imperial Metals, and will not be borne by B.C. taxpayers.

Polley Lake water stabilization plan:

Sediments and debris have created an unstable blockage at Polley Lake that has resulted in a build‐up of water that could result in a sudden uncontrolled breach. It’s necessary to reduce the excess water in Polley Lake in order to stabilize the situation and to avoid a potential breach and further release of sediments and debris into the surrounding waterways.

The potential for rain could further increase water levels in Polley Lake and outflows from Hazeltine Creek. A controlled release of excess water with a discharge pipe will help to stabilize the area and reduce the risk of a breach and further sediments reaching Quesnel Lake.

Imperial Metals has completed constructing a discharge pipe to Hazeltine Creek downstream from the tailings blockage and is now pumping water from Polley Lake.

The water will then flow downstream into Quesnel Lake where it will be tested daily. Once the water level is reduced to a safe level, technicians will commence water and sediment sampling in Hazeltine Creek. The map of the discharge pipe route is available at: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/eemp/incidents/2014/mount‐polley.htm

Currently, water is also being pumped out of Polley Lake into Wight and Springer Pits, two open pits on the mine.

Drinking water advisory:

For a third day in a row, environmental testing has shown that water samples have come back at safe levels, according to Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines. Despite the encouraging results from the Imperial Mine’s tests of Polley Lake that were released yesterday, the DO NOT USE Order by IH’s Regional Medical Health Officer remains in place until corroborating independent Ministry of Environment sample results from Polley Lake are reviewed by all parties involved. These are expected within the next two days.

On Aug. 8, 2014, Interior Health lifted the do not use water advisory for communities that get their water from Quesnel River. The water quality advisory remains in place for communities that get their water from Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek, Cariboo Quesnel Lake, as well as the Quesnel River south of 6236 Cedar Creek Road. This includes the communities of Winkley Creek, Abbott Creek, Mitchell Bay and Quesnel Lake. It is important to note, in the event of an unplanned large flow of water from Polley Lake, the DO NOT USE order will be reinstated on the larger area.

Interior Health will continue to evaluate water samples as they arrive and will update the communities as more information becomes available. There are approximately 100-200 residents within the affected area.

The advisory does not apply to people in Williams Lake, Quesnel or other towns along the Fraser River. Fishing by First Nations along the Fraser is also not affected.

On Aug. 7, 2014, Save-On-Foods, in conjunction with the Canadian Red Cross donated 18,000 500ml bottles of water and 1,440 four-litre bottles of water. These bottles have been distributed to Likely and area residents in need.

This donation supplements the work of the CRD, which has organized delivery of water to Likely because the main supplier of bottled water in the area, a small grocery store, could not keep up with the demand.

The Ministry of Environment will continue to provide water sampling results to Interior Health officials and the CRD EOC as they become available. The ministry will continue to conduct water sampling tests daily to determine the impacts on water quality and is also working with Imperial Metals to develop both short-term and long-term plans for further water quality testing.

The ministry is now posting results on its website, including a map of sampling locations: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/eemp/incidents/2014/mount-polley.htm

Pollution abatement order:

On Aug. 6, 2014, the Ministry of Environment issued a Pollution Abatement Order (PAO) to Mt. Polley Mining Corp. This order required immediate action to stop the further release of mine tailings into nearby waterways and to submit environmental impact assessments and clean-up action plans to the ministry.

It also required the company to submit a written summary of actions taken to stop the release of mine tailings and to undertake preliminary environmental impact assessment and submit an action plan.

Imperial Mines met the Aug. 6, 2014, deadline requirements of the order to submit an Action Plan for the Preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and initiate environmental monitoring. Imperial Metals has provided, and will be initiating a plan to stop the flow from the tailings impoundment breach as required by item 1 of the PAO.

The company must also submit a detailed action plan by Aug. 15, 2014, and it is required to report weekly on the implementation of action plan measures.

Investigation:

Ministry of Energy and Mines inspectors continue their investigation and are continuing with interviews of mine staff and a review of all applicable documentation on the mine site.

Ministry of Environment conservation officers are independently investigating the breach. Conservation officers are Special Provincial Constables under the Police Act with a wide suite of powers associated with that designation. Although part of government, the Conservation Officer Service (COS) is unfettered in its investigations as it has the power to investigate and forward recommendations for charges when warranted directly to provincial crown counsel.

If the public has any information, they are asked to call the Report all Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line at 1 877 952-7277 or online at: www.env.gov.bc.ca/cos/rapp/form.htm

The inspectors of mines and other agencies will undertake a comprehensive investigation to determine causes for the breach. This will take several months. Lessons learned will be applied to other mines in the province as appropriate.

Dike construction at the tailings pond and other infrastructure:

Work continues on dike construction at the tailings pond breach. The dike is being built in a horseshoe shape just on the inside of the breach to stabilize the tailings material and keep it inside the impoundment when it rains. The company estimates that it will take about three weeks to complete.

Three hundred Imperial Metals employees are working on the dike construction and clean up.

In addition, good progress continues to be made by West Fraser to boom the debris in Quesnel Lake and prevent it from reaching the bridge. The most recent reports suggest that approximately 80% of it is contained in Mitchell Bay and will be forwarded to Fraser Mills haul-out site. The Likely Bridge is not at risk.

Worker supports:

Staff from the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training (JTST) are in contact with the company to understand current job impacts and to communicate provincial supports. Initial information from the company suggests that, at this time, most of the mine employees remain working.

The JTST Community Transition Manager will be on the ground tomorrow, co-locating with the United Steelworkers at their local office in Williams Lake, to co-ordinate support and gather intelligence on worker and community impacts and services.

WorkBC Employment Services Centre (ESC) supports help connect people with employment opportunities and skills training. These will be mobilized in the area this week and work is being done to determine the best way to connect with impacted workers. The WorkBC ESC will be available to join in any on the ground services and support in Likely as needed, and will be available to visit Likely early this week.

Tourism information:

All tourism businesses in the affected area and the entire region remain open, operational, and ready to welcome guests.

The 2nd Annual Hot Summer Nights Music Festival at Elysia Resort & Lodge on Quesnel Lake, near Likely, is scheduled to take place this weekend and will continue. The resort has arranged to bring in a 5,000 gallon tank for potable water to ensure guests continue to enjoy not only this event but also regular resort operations. The restaurant is open and they hope many people will come join them this weekend and throughout the summer.

As well, the Plato Island Resort & Marina, also on Quesnel Lake, will host its annual Musik Fest 2014 on Aug. 9, 2014, with Williams Lake performers “Perfect Match” taking the stage. Plato remains fully operational as their water supply is from a nearby spring, isolated from the Mt. Polley incident.

Previous site inspections:

The Mount Polley mine has a valid Mines Act permit and the company has been generally compliant with the Health, Safety and Reclamation Code and their Mines Act permit conditions.

Following reports of a previous breach at the mine, Ministry of Energy and Mines officials investigated an incident on May 24, 2014, and determined this was not a breach. Rather, the height of the tailings pond was above regulation. This occurred in a different area of the tailings pond than the Aug. 4, 2014, dam failure.

At the time of the advisory, the distance between the water elevation and the crest of the dam (freeboard) was less than one meter. The tailings pond level returned to authorized levels and freeboard was approximately 2.4 meters when last measured. Mine records show that the operation was carrying out visual dam inspections and measuring freeboard at an acceptable frequency, including daily measurements following the incident.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines conducted a geotechnical inspection at the mine in September 2013, which resulted in no inspection orders related to the tailings facility.

Here is a list of recent advisories to Mount Polley from the Ministry of Environment, only one of which was related to height of the tailings pond. The Ministry of Environment is responsible to ensure no unauthorized effluent discharge from the tailings pond structure:

  • May 24, 2014: The ministry issued an advisory to Mount Polley Mining Corporation for exceedance of the height of effluent within the tailings impoundment. The effluent level returned to authorized levels commencing June 30, 2014.
  • April 18, 2014: The ministry issued an advisory to Mount Polley Mining Corporation for bypass of authorized treatment works. The site experienced high flows due to spring freshet which caused the pump system to become blocked and resulted in an overflow of effluent to the long ditch. Flow did not reach the creek and was directed into Till Borrow Pit.
  • January and April 2012: The ministry issued an advisory to Mount Polley Mining Corporation for not submitting monitoring data for one of the groundwater monitoring wells.
  • Aug. 30, 2012: The ministry issued a warning to Mount Polley Mining Corporation for failure to report exceedance of the height of effluent for the perimeter pond. This perimeter pond overflowed, releasing approximately 150 cubic metres of effluent over 13 hours to ground.

As required by the Health, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines in British Columbia, companies must submit Annual Dam Safety Inspection reports to the Chief Inspector on an annual basis. Inspections of dams by ministry geotechnical inspectors are conducted at a frequency informed by the dam consequence classification that is designated by the dam design engineers in accordance with the Canadian Dam Association Dam Safety Guidelines.

Since the Mount Polley mine was permitted in 1995, there have been 16 geotechnical inspections conducted by ministry geotechnical inspectors. One inspection was conducted each year from 1995-2001 and in 2006, 2008 and 2013. Two inspections were conducted in each of 2005, 2007 and 2012.  

In summary, seven geotechnical inspections took place before the mine went into care and maintenance in 2001 and nine geotechnical inspections have taken place since it re-opened in March 2005. The last geotechnical inspection was conducted in September 2013 and resulted in no inspection orders related to the tailings facility.

Here is a historical record of the number of all types of inspections (including geotechnical) each year from 1999 to 2014:

  • 1999 – 1
  • 2000 – 4
  • 2001 – 22 (care and maintenance started September 2001)
  • 2002 – 4
  • 2003 – 2
  • 2004 – 5
  • 2005 – 15 (mine re-opened March 2005)
  • 2006 – 10
  • 2007 – 10
  • 2008 – 8
  • 2009 – 9
  • 2010 – 7
  • 2011 – 4
  • 2012 – 6
  • 2013 – 15
  • 2014 (to-date) – 8

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