Resource Extraction

PHOTOS: Company responsible for Mount Polley disaster applies to reopen mine

A photo essay from Secwepemc First Nations territory shows Imperial Mines has made little effort to clean the mess left by last year’s spill
Nicky Young

On Easter Sunday, April 5, I traveled with a scientist and an engineer from Vancouver to Likely, BC, the site of the infamous Mount Polley tailings breach. The three of us shot photos, took samples and pulled each other out of tailings quicksand as we hiked seven treacherous kilometres from Quesnel Lake up the completely destroyed Hazeltine Creek to the site of the dam failure.

Eight months have passed since one of the worst mining disasters in Canadian history. Despite an ongoing RCMP investigation and a complete lack of clean-up, the BC Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas has agreed to review an application from Imperial Metals, the company responsible, to reopen the Mount Polley gold and copper mine as early as June.

The month-long review began on April 1, meaning that it will be completed before the results of the investigation have been released. That investigation, which led to a raid at Imperial Metals’ Vancouver office in February, could yield criminal charges.

Allowing a review to go forward before the investigation has been completed does raise a question. Do government and industry view disasters like the one at Mount Polley as an acceptable cost of doing business?

I spoke with Larry Chambers, a former employee of the mine who believes he was fired for raising safety concerns.

“When I worked at Mount Polley I phoned the ministry of mines and told them that the dam was pushed out. A lot of the employees working there knew the dam was going to give out,” said Chambers. “I told them they’ve gotta do something about this. It’s going to breach. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. It all fell on deaf ears.”

The disaster took place on unceded Secwepemc First Nations territory, home to Kanahus Manuel of the Secwepemc Women Warrior Society, a group opposed to all development that threatens water in their territory.

“The province has no jurisdiction to be making these decisions on our homeland,” Kanahus argued. “What happens here at Mount Polley and how government and industry deal with this disaster is going to set a precedent on how they deal with other disasters and spills in the future, whether from mining or pipelines. This is what they think about us. This is what they think about our water and our land.”

Secwepemc territory is also home to a vast stretch of the proposed Kinder Morgan tar sands pipeline, as well as the Ruddock Creek mine, proposed by Imperial Metals and currently undergoing an environmental assessment.

Given the extent of resource extraction proposed on contested lands, whatever happens next may well set the tone for the future of an industry that Canada dominates worldwide.

You can watch a video Nicky Young has made on this subject here.

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