The first phase of a long-term remediation plan for the area impacted by the Mount Polley tailings breach focuses on human health and environmental safety through the winter and spring to June 2015.
A progress report on Mount Polley Mining Corporation’s remediation plan, focusing on Phase 1 of a longer-term plan, was released by Environment Minister Mary Polak on Nov. 24.
The minister said the company has already completed or initiated many components of Phase 1, toward achieving three key outcomes, which will ensure:
• No further unauthorized discharges into Hazeltine Creek;
• The impact zone will be stabilized to manage seasonal events; and
• Water quality entering Quesnel Lake and at the outer edge of the impact zone will meet provincial water quality guidelines.
Deliverables of Phase 1 of the longer-term plan are contained in a letter to the company outlining what actions have been completed to the ministry’s satisfaction, and what actions still need to be taken over the short-term. This letter, along with the progress report and other supporting documents can be found online at http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/eemp/incidents/2014/mount-polley/updates.htm.
To achieve compliance with Phase 1 objectives, a number of erosion mitigation measures are completed or underway, including a silt fence installation at the mouth of Hazeltine Creek, re-contouring, flow diversion, Polley Lake outlet flow control and installation and operation of settling ponds at Lower Hazeltine Creek.
Steps to protect the area from additional environmental damage due to increased water flow from thawing snow – the spring freshet – are also part of this first phase.
Phase 2 of the long-term plan covers the timeframe from July 2015 to August 2016, and focuses on remediating the impacts of the breach.
During this period, the ministry will work with the company to implement longer term mitigation strategies ensuring the health of Hazeltine Creek, and Quesnel and Polley lakes, while continuing to monitor the company’s compliance with the Environmental Management Act and the Pollution Abatement Order.
The company is also expected to finalize and implement a long-term monitoring plan as part of Phase 2.
Since the breach occurred on Aug. 4, 2014, Mount Polley Mining Corporation has submitted a series of plans and actions the company has taken in response to the breach to the ministry for review.
These plans have been reviewed by environment ministry staff, along with an environmental working group and an independent science panel, with refinements relayed to the company on an ongoing basis.
To assess both immediate and potentially longer term impacts from the breach, ministry staff has been taking water, sediment, fish tissue and plankton samples from waterways impacted by the tailings spill since the breach occurred.
Initial findings indicate metal concentrations from outside of the impact zone are below British Columbia drinking water guidelines.
Following this period of intensive sampling, the ministry is now transitioning to an auditing role, continuing to work with the mine, other provincial and federal agencies, First Nations, academia and local communities to establish an integrated approach to further monitoring.
Installation of five monitoring buoys to collect water quality data on the sediment plume in Quesnel Lake over the winter months is a result of this work.
The Mount Polley Mining Corporation is responsible for the entire cost of the breach, including the cleanup, remediation and site restoration.
The ministry will continue to oversee all work undertaken by the company to ensure a long-term environmental monitoring program is implemented.
• On Aug. 4, 2014, the tailings storage facility at Mount Polley Mine breached releasing approximately 17 million cubic metres of water and eight million cubic metres of tailings into Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake.
• The Ministry of Environment issued a Pollution Abatement Order (PAO) on Aug. 5, 2014 under the Environmental Management Act to abate the discharge, undertake an environmental impact assessment of the release, and implement remediation activities. Failure to comply with the PAO could lead to a maximum fine of $300,000 per day and up to six months in jail.
• Ministry of Environment staff has been on the ground since the breach occurred providing support to the impacted community, First Nations and local government.
• The cause of the breach is unknown at this time. Three separate investigations to determine the cause of the impact of the breach are underway.
All planning documents developed by Mount Polley Mining Corporation are publically available on the Ministry of Environment’s dedicated Mount Polley site at http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/eemp/incidents/2014/mount-polley.htm.