Amnesty on the Ground: "We were unprepared for the sight of Hazeltine Creek"
Monday, July 27, 2015 - 13:19
By Fiona Koza, Amnesty Campaigner for Business and Human Rights
Taking a trip along the Ditch Road in Likely, BC yesterday, we were unprepared for the sight of Hazeltine Creek, which was devastated as a consequence of the Mt Polley mine tailings breach almost one year ago. Twenty-five million cubic metres of mine waste mixed with water is hard to visualize, but when it spilled from Mt Polley’s mine tailings storage facility through Polley Lake and into Hazeltine Creek, it was enough to scour out a deep canyon and uproot and carry away a swath of dense forest on the way to Quesnel Lake.
During the past several days we have had the opportunity to meet with people from the region, including government, First Nations, scientists, the union that represents the workers at the mine, local residents in the town of Likely, and businesses. One year on, the community of Likely seems divided, with some just wanting to put the past behind them, and others continuing to feel grief and anger over the tailings pond breach. Even though water quality tests have shown that the water in Quesnel Lake meets drinking water quality standards, many people in the community don’t fully trust the test results and are unwilling to drink the water that comes from the lake, or eat the fish.
Remediation work on Hazeltine Creek is underway and Mount Polley Mining Corporation and its parent company, Imperial Metals, seem proud of what they have accomplished so far. Ironically though, the company announced yesterday its plan to discharge still more waste water, 9.5 million cubic metres of treated mine effluent per year over the next two years into Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake as a short term plan to deal with the fact that there is too much water in their tailings dam. The public has 30 days to submit comments. Concerned about the company's newest plans for the lake, many local residents intend to participate in the public consultation process. But at the same time, they told us they feel disheartened because they don’t believe their comments will be given serious consideration.
Last year, Premier Christy Clarke gave her word to the community of Likely, BC that Quesnel Lake would be returned to “pristine” conditions, but there are doubts among the community that this can be achieved, especially if Mt Polley mine is allowed to continue its discharge into Quesnel Lake. The question on many people's lips is whether the provincial government has established strong enough regulations and allocated sufficient resources for monitoring and enforcement to ensure that mining companies prioritize public safety without cutting corners.