Aerial photo shows work to contain Mount Polley tailings after dam breach at the mine near Williams Lake Aug. 4.

Opposition demands Mount Polley reports

Environment Minister Mary Polak says inspection results stay under wraps until mine tailings spill investigations are complete

VICTORIA – The B.C. government released its latest water test results from the Mount Polley mine spill area Thursday, but refused a demand by opposition politicians to release inspection reports on the mine and tailings dam that collapsed Aug. 4.

Environment Minister Mary Polak said the water results showed “slightly” elevated levels of aluminum and copper in water samples from Quesnel Lake, but water remains safe to drink in the area affected by the plume of tailings in the lake.

Polak said all information related to health and safety of area residents has been made public, but she is complying with a request from investigators not to release inspection reports until multiple investigations are complete.

Polak released an Oct. 6 letter from B.C. Chief Inspector of Mines Al Hoffman, who is supervising one investigation of the dam failure. Hoffman said mine experts are examining “all documents relating to the history, design, construction, operation and maintenance of the tailings facility” and have interviewed more than 50 people.

“I share the concern with the Ministry of Justice that the public release of information related to the tailings facility at Mount Polley may impact investigations by tainting evidence of persons yet to be interviewed or re-interviewed,” Hoffman wrote.

Imperial Metals issued a statement last week in response to a Vancouver newspaper report that a 2010 inspection report described a crack found in the Mount Polley dam.

The crack was 900 metres away from the area of the August breach, and “was thought to be associated with localized settlement of loosely compacted material along the downstream slope of the embankment,” the company said.

NDP energy and mines critic Norm Macdonald referred to reduced inspections at a coal mine in the Kootenays, and a memo from a ministry official in 2010 warning of the risks of reducing mine inspections.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett maintains that annual inspections of Mount Polley and other mines with tailings ponds were not reduced, although other inspections were less frequent.

 

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