Government announces independent investigation into Mount Polley

WATCH: Two weeks after the tailings pond failure at the Mount Polley mine, the BC government is ordering an independent investigation into the disaster and a third party review of dam inspections at all tailings ponds in the province. Here’s Jas Johal.

The provincial government announced an independent investigation into the Mount Polley tailings pond breach today, along with a review of all tailings ponds in B.C.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett announced the two reviews this morning, calling the breach “a disaster”.

“We need to find out why it happened, and ensure it never happens again,” said Bennett, who says the investigation will issue a final report by January 31.

“People need to know we can mine in this province safely.”

Bennett says all mine companies must conduct safety inspections of their own tailings ponds by Dec. 1, and to have the inspections reviewed by outside engineering firms.

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The three-person panel reviewing the Mount Polley breach will be able to compel Imperial Metals, which owns the mine, to testify and give evidence during the investigation.

“The investigation will be thorough and rigorous,” said Dirk Van Zyl, one of the three appointees. “I have full confidence we will have complete freedom to make any necessary recommendations.”

Van Zyl, a UBC Mining professor with more than 30 years experience in researching tailings ponds, said that it is difficult to compare the Mount Polley disaster with other tailings pond breaches, because they’re all built differently. According to Bennett, there are 98 tailings ponds in B.C. alone.

“There has been worldwide interest from engineers on this,” he said.

“It’s important to understand how this occurred. It’s important for mining, and it’s important for governments.”

The tailings pond at Mount Polley Mine near the town of Likely breached on August 4, sending 4.5 million cubic metres of waste into Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake.

WATCH: Aerials of Mount Polley Mine disaster

The cost of the cleanup is expected to be around $200 million, and Imperial Metals laid off 42 workers last week.

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While the long-term impact of the spill to the local environment will not be known for some time, water samples taken from Quesnel River and Lake in the past week have met drinking water guidelines.

A water ban is still in place in the area directly affected by the breach, including Polley Lake and Hazeltine Creek, and is expected to stay in place indefinitely.

Bennett also announced that a permit for Red Chris Mine, which Imperial Metals was hoping to open this fall, will be put on hold while the Tahltan Indian Band appoints someone to assess the mines’ tailings pond.

In addition, the Williams Lake Indian Band and Soda Creek Indian Band each have signed a letter with the government to work in partnership during the review. The two bands, who will each receive $200,000 from the government, will appointing a liaison to work with the independent panel.

While Bennett said that “one accident is one too many” in B.C., he defended the mining industry’s future, saying it would be an important economic engine for years to come.

“There has been no breach of a major tailings pond in B.C. of an operating mine in at least 40 years,” he said.

“The industry has, other than this accident, a very solid safety record. Safety as it relates to government, and safety as it relates to people.”

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WATCH: The provincial government announces an independent panel to review the Mount Polley tailings pond breach

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