Eco-tour operators in the area of the tailings pond breach at Mount Polley are raising the alarm about the impact on their business.
It is estimated ten million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of toxic waste — equivalent to 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools — has spilled into Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake.
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The exact quantities of water and tailings spilled have not yet been determined and according to Imperial Metals Corporation statement they are working to mitigate the immediate impact of the tailings breach. The company claims the tailings pond breach has now stabilized.
But some of the local residents are calling it an environmental disaster.
Gary Zorn owns an eco tourism business in the area.
Ecotours BC specializes in bear and wildfire viewing.
Zorn says they are already getting phone calls from concerned eco-tour operators who want to know the extent of the damage and potential risks for their clients.
“It is going to be like Chernobyl. What tourist goes there to visit?” says Zorn. “Quesnel Lake is likely going to have that name to it here. The area is just total devastation. It is a huge wilderness area, but what happened is going to be a stereotype, that is the problem.”
Zorn says he has been in tourism business for over 30 years and his business attracts eco-tourists from all over the world.
“When we went up there yesterday, we looked at it and saw dead fish floating. We just could not believe our eyes.”
Zorn says residents have been reassured nothing of this magnitude would ever happen.
“The sad part of this is – they can drive away from it and we are stuck with it.”
He says he wants government and mine representatives to begin the cleanup as soon as possible.
He says so far, there’s been no communication from either side.
“I would like to see the government and Mount Polley come forward and assess the damage. Nobody has spoken with us.”
While scientists and conservationists say the total extent of damage from the tailings pond breach at Mount Polley won’t be known for weeks, the impact could be widespread.
A report from Environment Canada issued last year shows the disposals at the mine included lead, arsenic, zinc, mercury and phosphorus among many other elements.
“It could take anything from weeks to decades to recover, depending on the scale of this,” says Phil Owens, a member of the Quesnel River Research Centre.
There are concerns around the debris and chemicals from the tailing ponds coming down into Quesnel Lake. Others fear the billions of litres of contaminated water could pollute other water ways in the area.