Independent eyes will take a closer look at what sent millions of cubic metres of industrial waste gushing in to B.C. waters two weeks ago.
“This is obviously a very serious incident. It is a disaster.”
Mines Minister Bill Bennett says the government will do all they can to restore public confidence in mining in the province.
“First, an independent investigation into the tailings dam breach at Mount Polley, which will be led by an independent panel. Secondly, the Chief Inspector of Mines has ordered an independent third party review of all dam safety inspections for every tailings pond at a permitted mine in British Columbia.”
Bennett says if the government is found to be at fault he will take responsibility.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Rustad says the Soda Creek and Williams Lake First Nations will be given $200,000 each to cover costs linked to the August 4th spill, such as food.
But he’s not saying if that money’s coming from taxpayers or the mine operator.
“All of the expenses that go through are something that we will be looking at. I think it’s too early at this stage to say just what will be the complete list. The parties agree that the entities responsible be required to pay for all costs and damages incurred.”
The leaders of both First Nations say the confidence of British Columbians has been shaken by this disaster, but they’re both pleased to be included in the review process.
UBC Engineering Prof Dirk van Zyl says failures like this are about one in a million per year.
“You always hope it never happens at home and this time it did and so it’s a great force that’s released when you have such a failure.”
He says large failures like this and investigations of them often find there could be a number of ways the breach could have happened.
Despite Bennett’s assurances this investigation will be ‘independent,’ money is being raised to fund testing with no government involvement.
“Because there’s a lot of concern out there about the quality of the government testing that’s been done so far and the testing that they’re planning to do in the future.”
Aaron Hill with the Watershed Watch Salmon Society says First Nations and University of Northern BC scientists are already taking their own samples, but they need money to complete their analysis.
“We’re going to be in touch with expert advisers to ensure that we allocate the money in the best possible manner and we’re also going to be donating every dollar that we raise directly to monitoring efforts.”
Hill says government leaders have been downplaying the significance of this disaster, but results made public over the weekend prove the impact on local wildlife could be serious.
Donations can be made online at watershedwatch.ca or by mailing a cheque to the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, 1037 Madore Avenue, Coquitlam, BC, V3K 3B7 and noting it is for Mt. Polley mine spill monitoring.
Meanwhile, the Mount Polley disaster has halted plans for a mine near Smithers which includes extracting up to 30-thousand tonnes of copper and gold every day over a 21-year period.
The environmental assessment of the proposed Morrison mine has been suspended, pending the outcome of the Mount Polley probe.
Environment Minister Mary Polak says a key problem with that open-pit project is tailings storage.
“Since that is the focus, of course, around the concern with respect to Mt. Polley, it was my view that it was appropriate to suspend our consideration until we had to access to the information coming from that investigation.”