VANCOUVER – It turns out that in recent months, Imperial Metals had accumulated more water than it could handle, partly due to runoff and it was in the process of applying for more capacity.
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Early Monday morning the tailings pond at Mount Polley Mine breached, and an estimated 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of toxic waste — equivalent to 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools — spilled into Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake.
After two days of pressure from the public, the president of Imperial Metals, Brian Kynoch, faced the press and concerned residents in the town of Likely, B.C.
“I apologize for what happened,” said Kynoch. “If you would have asked me two weeks ago if that could happen, I would say that couldn’t happen. So I know that for our company it’s going to take a long time to earn the community’s trust back.”
READ MORE: Before and after photos show devastation of Mount Polley tailings pond breach
However, concerns were raised about the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond three years ago. The mine was reportedly dealing with more water than it could handle from operations and runoff.
The company made an application to government to dump the waste water from the mine into the local watershed.
There was huge opposition from the community including local aboriginal bands who hired an independent environmental consultant who made two key recommendations regarding water treatment.
He said those recommendations were not followed to his knowledge.
“I think when something like this happens you have to be surprised,” said consultant Brian Olding. “I mean you just don’t wake up in the morning expecting to hear something like this happened but in retrospect, knowing what I know about it, the situation that was in place, no. I’m not surprised.”
“That’s why we put those recommendations in place. Period.”
Minister of Mines and Energy, Bill Bennett said Imperial Metals has been operating in B.C. for many years and added that for the most part, they have been compliant. “It had an out of compliance incident in May, in terms of the water level in the tailings pond being too high,” said Bennett. “The water level was reduced and we monitor that on a monthly basis and they have been in compliance up until this point.”
The last time ministry staff inspected the mine was in September, 2013.
– With files from Rumina Daya