A wall in a tailings pond at Mount Polley in north central B.C.collapsed on August 2014 and spilled 10.6 million cubic meters of sludge into the Quesnel river, a tributary of the Fraser river system. Toxic arsenic, lead and nickel were let loose into otherwise pristine waters near Likely B.C. and affected citizens who had been left in the dark.

This was one of the worst environmental disasters to hit this part of the world and government officials held onto to critical information which could have sparked deep concerns for local citizens. According to the B.C.  Information and Privacy Commissioner the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Ministry of the Environment knew of a tension crack in the wall. They could have disclosed this information but were not required to, according to a report released by the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

One seems to contradict the other in this instance: Privacy and Information.

When we saw the images on BCTV of the tailings spill we shuddered at the thought of what this would do for salmon and habitat in the area. We sent our crew to the site and followed Chief Bev Sellars for a day and interviewed her technical team brought together to form a response. We watched her be interviewed by radio and print reporters and noticed her level of frustration with the system. No one seems to understand that people in her region relied on the bounty of the lands and waters for their living.

Industry hid out for weeks before they emerged and said that they would drink water from the lake, although no one held a cup of water up to do so. Fish were found floating to the top. The Musqueam band were in the middle of a fishing season and offered to bring fresh salmon to the first nations of the area but alas, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans stopped them. No one got fish in that area during the late summer and fall in 2014.

A year later, in July of 2015, the Ministry of Energy and Mines was ready to reopen the dam and mine, after excessive reviews. On August 5, 2015 the dam was restarted using a modified operations plan that included use of an adjacent pit. The Springer pit would hold 4 million tonnes of tailings for a one year period while the Imperial Mines continued to rehabilitate the area affected by the catastrophe at Mount Polley on that infamous day in August 2014.

As industry moves forward the environment takes one step back. It is a political game waged on the fragile environment surrounding all mining developments in the free world. Justice for pure water lost another battle at Mount Polley. Even environmentalists like Wade Davis said that, “at worst, the mining industry should be held to the highest standards possible”, seemingly resigned that mining would move ahead no matter what.

There have also been changes in the administration of the Xatsull First Nation (Soda Creek Indian Band). Chief Bev Sellars stepped down as chief in the spring of 2015 and Jacinda Mack, response coordinator is no longer employed there as well. They could not be reached by phone for an update. Meanwhile, according to the Council of Canadians, the Imperial Metals "continues to claim to the community and the public that their tailings are non-toxic - that the Arsenic, Nickel, Zinc, Cadmium, Cobalt, Phosphorus, Lead, Copper, Mercury, Selenium - all chemicals and metals found in the tailings - are at concentrations that are too low to effect anything". 

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