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MOUNT POLLEY MINE: STAY OF PRIVATE PROSECUTION, ACTIVE CIVIL SUITS, AN ESTIMATED $67.4 MILLION FOR REHABILITATION
By Cori Marshall
On Monday, we looked at the situation surrounding the MiningWatch private prosecution against Imperial Metals Corp and the British Columbia government. The crown was successful in having the court grant a stay in proceedings. Nearly three years later, how have the affected communities and mining corporation adjusted?
Imperial Metals operation at Mount Polley was affected by the breach. According to Vice President of Corporate Affairs Steve Robertson, work at the mine was "suspended for a full year." Robertson added that the Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) "wasn't used for 22 months, but was fully repaired and permitted for use as of June 2016."
Imperial undertook major repair operations. Robertson said that in order to accomplish the task the failed area was excavated, then "rebuilt from the ground up." The new design accounts for the actual foundation's conditions and the dam has been reinforced using buttresses.
In the immediate aftermath of the dam breach in 2014, Imperial began to work with the public and First Nations. Robertson adds that it has been Mount Polley Mining Corporation's (MPMC) "practice to engage with the community regularly since the time before the mine was constructed." The VP underlines that "community input has been a critical ingredient in developing a successful plan as we move forward."
Robertson suggests that the cost of "rehabilitation has been estimated at $67.4 million, which has been funded entirely by the company." Imperial metals have even reimbursed "the cost of the government investigation." The company's third-quarter financial report from 2014 indicates that Imperial also "completed a $115 million debenture" to cover costs.
The corporation has completed the tasks required of it as it gradually returned to normal operations. The Pollution Abatement Order issued by the B.C. government has been amended several times, the latest amendment allows additional time to complete the Environmental Risk Assessment which is now slated for April 30, 2017. As of now order 107461 is in "partial fulfilment."
We also contacted the Cariboo Regional District who "respectfully declined" to comment because the case was before the courts.
The document to Monday's hearing is unavailable; the reason listed by B.C.'s Court Services Online (CSO) was "access restricted." There were, however, 22 files for civil cases involving Imperial Metals dating from 1995 to 2016. One of the cases that was brought forward was the joint civil suit by the Williams Lake and Soda Creek Bands.
The two First Nations are bringing suit against the mine, Imperial Metals, Imperial Energy, Bethlehem Resources, and the province for damage to their "interests and rights, including aboriginal rights."
According to the Notice of Civil Claim, the five corporate defendants are one and the same. The Mount Polley Mining Corporation and Bethlehem Resources, in both cases, are "an alter ego and act as an agent of the Defendant Imperial Metals" who own all the share of both. Imperial Energy "assigned all of its rights, titles and interests concerning the mine to Imperial Metals" in 2002.
The plaintiffs claim that the flaws in the tailings pond dam were caused by the "defendants' intentional and negligent failures to comply with conditions of the permits legislation and regulations." The plaintiffs claim that the crown failed to “ensure a safe mine design, carry out adequate inspections, [and ensure] the Corporate Defendants built and operated the TSF and Dam in accordance with mine design.”
The claims are that the negligence of the Corporate Defendants and the Crown led to significant "loss and damage." The First Nations are seeking relief for general and special damages interest pursuant to the Court Order Interest Act, costs, and “such further and other relief as [the] honourable Court deems just." The notice was the only document filed under this case.
The 2010 Knight Piésold (KP) inspection found the Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) embankments to be "in good condition." KP did note the observation of a tension crack "at the perimeter Embankment on the downstream side of the crest in zone C." In addition, KP highlighted that the downstream slope of the main Embankment was "constructed as an interim slope to balance construction material requirements with waste production schedules."
The report notes that the "short term configuration", at that time was still in existence. The construction of a buttress was recommended "along the entire dam", yet was only done along the west side.
A September 2013 geotechnical inspection of the TSF, indicates that construction was underway to raise the dam to "elevation 970m." The report states that there were "no indicators of instability." The report indicates that all work was being well done.
The province, Soda Creek and Williams Lake Bands have drafted a "Letter of Understanding" that sets the framework of a joint approach to finding solutions to this issue. The civil case has still not been filed with B.C. Courts. With the MiningWatch case out of the way, the only prosecution will come as a result of the federal and provincial investigations.
We consulted the filed financial reports on the Elections BC website and found that between 2005 and 2015 Imperial Metals and the Mount Polley Mining Corporation donated $181,970 to the B.C. Liberal Party. This includes a combined donation $54,660 to the 2013 election campaign.
Stay with as us we continue to bring you updates and stories surrounding the Mount Polley Mine.