Five-year anniversary looms with no charges in catastrophic Mount Polley dam collapse

No ecocide law = no prosecution after 5 years. Still, who knows if justice will finally be rendered?

The joint federal-provincial investigation into the collapse of the Mount Polley mine's tailings dam continues. Contents from the pondraced down Hazeltine Creek, with some reaching Quesnel Lake, in 2014.
The collapse of the Mount Polley mine’s tailings dam in 2014 allowed toxic contents from the tailings pond to flow into Hazeltine Creek, with some reaching Quesnel Lake. JONATHAN HAYWARD / CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Environmentalists and Mount Polley mine-area residents are anxiously waiting as one deadline approaches for federal agencies to lay charges over the 2014 collapse of the B.C. Interior mine’s tailings dam.

After a 4-1/2-year investigation, a team comprised of officials with Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, along with the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, delivered a charge package to federal prosecutors this spring.

It is now up to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to determine if charges will be laid.

Under federal law, there is a five-year window that ends Aug. 4 to lay charges in a summary conviction under the Fisheries Act, where a large corporation faces fines up to $8 million.

However, if federal prosecutors were to lay more serious charges as an indictment — which come with higher maximum fines of $12 million — there is no timeline.

Another deadline already passed at the three-year mark, when British Columbia officials decided not to lay charges.

One of the largest mining-dam failures in the world in the past 50 years, the Aug. 4, 2014, dam collapse of Imperial Metals’ gold mine in the B.C. Interior shook the industry and caused concern among the public, First Nations and environmental groups that aquatic life would be harmed, particularly salmon that use the Quesnel Lake system to spawn.

“We are holding our breaths over the next couple of weeks to see what happens,” said Christine McLean, who has a home on the lake. “If charges are laid, we feel that we will finally get some justice.”

Looking upstream at the rehabilitated Lower Hazeltine Creek channel just upstream from Quesnel Lake. The nearby 2014 Mount Polley dam failure was one of the largest failures in the past 50 years, releasing millions of cubic metres of water and tailings into the creek, which flows into Quesnel Lake.
Looking upstream at the rehabilitated Lower Hazeltine Creek channel just upstream from Quesnel Lake. The nearby 2014 Mount Polley dam failure was one of the largest failures in the past 50 years, releasing millions of cubic metres of water and tailings into the creek, which flows into Quesnel Lake. PROVINCE OF B.C.

In a written response, Environment Canada said the investigation team’s charge report was delivered April 2, 2019.

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada, with the help of the B.C. Prosecution Service, is assessing the charge file. “As the matter is now under charge assessment, (Environment Canada) is not in a position to provide further comment at this time,” ministry spokesman Mark Johnson said Friday.

Linda Nowlan, a staff lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law, said the fact federal officials have mentioned there is no timeline for an indictment, may mean they are considering that route. MORE

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Mount Polley Mine is Still Pumping Waste Into Quesnel Lake

Pipes now discharge mine wastewater at a rate of up to 52 million litres per day


Hazeltine Creek after the Mount Polley disaster. © Bonnie Glambeck

August 4 will mark the day, five years ago, when the tailings pond of the Mount Polley mine breached, dumping the equivalent of 10,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools-worth of copper and gold mining wastewater into nearby Quesnel Lake.

The remote, glacially fed lake – the deepest in BC and claimed to be the ninth deepest in the world – sits nearly centred and slightly east of a line drawn between Prince George and Kamloops. The lake is an important nursery for Pacific salmon and home to trophy-size rainbow trout, lake trout and Dolly Varden.

“Approximately four million salmon annually move through the Fraser River watershed, and 30% of those come from Quesnel Lake,” said Judith Pringle of the group Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake, in a webinar presentation in May.

Imperial Metals, the owner of Mount Polley mine, has faced no fines, no penalties, and no charges in connection with the disaster. On the contrary, Imperial Metals was granted a permit to forego a tailings dam altogether.

“In 2017 the Ministry of Environment (MOE) very quietly gave the mine a permit to build a pipeline from [their] treatment plant, taking all of their mine waste water directly into Quesnel Lake,” Pringle said.

The treatment plant feeding the pipeline removes sediment, nitrates, and phosphates. Not removed from the wastewater are possible contaminants such as copper, selenium, aluminum, iron, and lead, said Pringle.

Twin two-foot diameter pipes now discharge mine wastewater at a rate of up to 52 million litres per day.

“Other mines can remove copper and various other metals,” said Pringle. “It’s not a difficult process, it is not expensive, but the Ministry of Environment continues to treat Polley as a special case.” MORE

TAKE ACTION! PM Trudeau: Don’t let Imperial Metals off the hook for the Mt. Polley mining disaster

Image result for Sumofus PM Trudeau: Don't let Imperial Metals off the hook for the Mt. Polley mining disaster

Just today, Canada’s Auditor General released an alarming report urging Trudeau’s government to do a better job to sanction mining companies when they fail to protect Canadian waters and fish. 

And there is one mining company in particular that Trudeau needs to act on — Imperial Metals.

Almost five years ago, Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley Mine spilled 25 million cubic metres of toxic waste into pristine Quesnel Lake, one of the deepest lakes in the world. The lake is home to multiple fish species, and supplies drinking water to local communities. Until now, the federal government has let Imperial Metals off the hook for the largest mining waste spill in Canadian history — but we’re going to change this. 

The clock is ticking: the government has until August 4th, 2019, to charge Imperial Metals. That’s why we need to turn up the heat now and force Trudeau’s hand.

Tell Trudeau’s government not to let Imperial Metals off the hook. Enforce the Fisheries Act now!