Former Mount Polley Mine employee speaks out about the tailings pond breach

VANCOUVER – A local state of emergency is in place for some people in the Cariboo Regional District and emotions are running high more than two days after a tailings pond breach at the Mount Polley Mine.

A water ban is also in place for hundreds of people after billions of litres of possibly toxic water flooded into local creeks and lakes.

The company says the dam’s failure has been stabilized, although it has not stopped, and the cause of the breach is still not known.

Gerald MacBurney, a former employee of the mine, worked there for seven years, eventually ending up as a tailings foreman. He is speaking out today about why he left.

He quit this past June, saying one of the main reasons was the stress of the job.

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“I fought those guys for two years,” he says, “the management at Polley, to get rock like they were supposed to, and build the dam properly. Doing my job, and then they would not do the stuff that you wanted, you know? I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

“They needed to put in five million tonnes [of rock] around the dam, because they added, once they went to a bigger mine life, they added five times the amount of water,” adds MacBurney. “That dam was never designed to hold five times that amount of water.”

“Five million tonnes, well we got maybe a couple hundred thousand. And that’s it, in two years. I’d had enough.”

He says they had a breach at the tailings pond in May and the company “just patched things together.”

“[They] carried on going up instead of wider and doing the proper way of doing it,” says MacBurney.

He adds that when he found out about the breach this past Monday, he felt terrible.

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“There’s definitely anger,” he says. “And then you know you’re responsible.”

MacBurney says management is to blame. “They’d send their reports to Vancouver, management at Polley, and all they cared about was making sure there was enough waste rock moved and enough ore moved, they didn’t care about tailings. Tailings was like nothing, nothing to them.”

He says the government is just as much to blame for what happened. “They were there in May because we had the breach, they call it high water, I know what a breach is and I know what high water is. It came over the till. That’s an automatic breach.”

MacBurney says he would like the government to stop all procedures at Imperial Metals.

“Hit them in the pocket where it belongs,” he says.

Ted Laking, the Director of Communication for the Minister of the Environment released a statement on Wednesday about the breach, saying:

“This spill is unacceptable. Canadians expect companies to operate in a responsible manner that protects the environment. The Government of BC is leading government efforts to contain this spill.  Environment Canada is ready to provide scientific advice and support if requested. Environment Canada is currently assessing the situation with respect to federal environmental and wildlife laws within its jurisdiction, and has opened an investigation. It would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time. If any laws were broken, then those responsible must face the consequences.”

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The actual cause of the breach is still being investigated and may take some time to get answers as to what went wrong.

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