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Heavy snow raises risk of new Mount Polley disaster

Local politicians and First Nation leaders are calling on the province to quickly avert another disaster at Mount Polley.
Damage that reached Quesnel Lake below the Mount Polley mine after the 2014 tailings dam collapse.

Local politicians and First Nation leaders are calling on the province to quickly avert another disaster at Mount Polley.

They reacted angrily Sunday to news that recent heavy snow is pushing water levels to dangerous levels in a temporary containment pit. The pit was created to replace the tailings pond dam that collapsed in 2014.

In June, when the mine was reopened, Xat’sull (Soda Creek First Nation) Chief Donna Dixon and Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Ann Louie described the move as premature and reckless.

Now, with rising water levels in the pit threatening another catastrophic spill, they are calling for “the mine ramp up (to) be stopped until all the problems are resolved.”

“Once again, we were ignored. Once again, they rolled the dice, and once again, our communities are facing disaster from this mine,” said Chief Dixon in a statement on Sunday. “This has to stop.”

Some reports indicate water in the pit is rising by as much as 33 cm a day and the current level is only six metres below the maximum allowed by the mine’s current permit.

Critics warn that, at this rate, a breach could happen in a few weeks.

Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb is urging the provincial environment ministry to urgently issue a permit so some of this rising water can be drained away by discharging clean water through a recently completed $2-million water treatment plant.

He penned a blistering letter last week to Premier Christy Clark last week asking for immediate action.

“I cannot state more emphatically that, unless the (discharge) permit is issued immediately, Mount Polley mine will experience another breach,” he wrote.

“Due to heavy snowfall, the water is rising at a significantly accelerated level ... Further delay will be catastrophic — environmentally, economically and socially. The blame for this will be solely with the ministry.”

“The time to worry about this was before making any decision to reopen. It was not as if they were not told that problems still existed,” said Dixon on Sunday. “Now we have this problem and yet they are still pushing for full reopening,”

There is also concern that even if the current crisis is averted, heavy run-off from melting snow in the spring could again overwhelm the pit.

“A short-term measure might not save us in the spring, if Imperial Metals is still allowed to ramp up production over the winter and create dangerous conditions for the spring run-off,” said Louie.