Likely residents wait for water samples from Mount Polley mine disaster

The town of Likely, B.C. has a population around 300 people.

It seemed almost all of them were packed into the community hall on Tuesday evening.

For the first time since 4.5 million cubic metres of toxic waste spewed from the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond into surrounding rivers and lakes, the people of the community were able to speak directly with officials from the provincial government and Imperial Metals, which owns the mine.

“We knew that they didn’t have a lot of answers, but people needed to yell and scream, while knowing there’s going to be a another meeting with more information soon,” said Robin Hood, Likely Chamber of Commerce president.

“It was very beneficial.”

A Public Information Session was held at the Likely Community Hall on Tuesday, the first time residents have gathered to hear information on the Mount Polley spill, which released 4.5 million cubic of trailings into the ecosystem.

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  • Tailings pond breach has local eco-tour operators concerned

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There was venting by some, asking questions that won’t be answered until the results of water samples are released on Thursday.

“I’ve sat through with three or four meetings with Mount Polley about discharging effluent,” said one man at the meeting.

“They can fill you with so much chemical [information], but we don’t understand it, I don’t understand it, it’s a waste of god damn time. All I want to know, after these water samples are done, can we drink the water or not.”

Others asked how the pond could have been breached in the first place, why there was a gap in officials getting to the scene, and why previous warningsweren’t heeded.

MORE: Concerns about Mount Polley tailings pond were raised 3 years ago

But others in the community preached calm as they wait.

“Things like this don’t happen overnight, and they’re not cleaned up overnight,” said Diane Gibson, who runs the town post office and restaurant.

“Before one points a finger, let’s wait and see. It’s devalued my property, it’s devalued a lot of people’s property, now deal with it.”

“It’s unfortunate that it’s happened here in our little Shangri-La, but is has. Mount Polley is up against it, and it doesn’t matter where the blame lies now, we as business people need to carry on.”

WATCH: Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch answers Global News reporter Jas Johal’s questions about reestablishing trust in the community.

Minister of Mines Bill Bennett flew over the site on Tuesday, and said all resources at his disposal would be put towards dealing with the consequences.

“We don’t know if it’s really, really terribly bad, or not so bad. We don’t know. We hope it’s not so bad, but it could be really bad,” said Bennett.

“We have to find out quickly as possible and manage the situation. I have to take a step back as the Mines Minister and take a look at every single tailings pond, every single dam in this province, and make sure we’re doing what we should be doing.”

For those dependent on ecotourism or the mine for their livelihood, the short-term effects are already ‘really bad’.

Hood says miners at Mount Polley have been sent letters telling them not to report for work, and it’s still unknown when – or if – the mine will reopen.

“They’re working at the mine, they’re making $100,000 a year, they’ve got shiny new boats and snowmobiles and trucks and boom, the paycheck stops tomorrow morning,” he said.

“There’s a limit to how long people withstand that. There’s a lot of stress right now.”

MORE: Tailings pond breach has local eco-tour operators concerned

Meanwhile, a number of lodges in the area have seen a surge of cancellations for the rest of the summer.

“We’re scrambling,” said Skeed Borkowski, who runs Northern Lights Lodge with his wife Sharon.

“We have lots of cancellations. It’s tough.

“When we’re fly fishing with clients, I would take a cup because I’m so proud of this water. I think we should give [the mine’s] management free rooms here, and we’ll get them a glass a day, and see how that works out.

“Where was the Ministry of Mines? We’re regulated with our fly fishing, and compliance is a big part of our business. How can the biggest disaster in this province, how can that happened when they’re regulated by a ministry?”

Aerial photo of the breach site, Global News.

Global News

“It’s hard to look out at this water and see all this stuff,” said Sharon. “You have no idea what’s in it. I can’t use any water that we have here.”

READ MORE: Water from breached tailings pond near Likely B.C. almost drinkable: Imperial Metals president

The economic impacts are secondary to those in Likely at the moment. For now, they want to see the water sample results. And they have their fingers crossed.

“I would like to know as soon as possible what test results come from water samples,” said Borkowski, “and then we can move on.”

– With files from Jas Johal and John Daly