November 20, 2015 10:00 pm
Updated: November 20, 2015 11:35 pm

Mount Polley tailings pit within 6.5 metres of capacity

WATCH: Williams Lake's mayor is warning about another Mount Polley mine disaster unless the provincial government takes action soon. Ted Chernecki explains what Walt Cobb says the risk is, and what the mayor is demanding be done.

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Months after the Mount Polley Mine reopened following the catastrophic tailings pond breach in 2014, there are concerns that a new tailings pond is already reaching its capacity.

“I cannot state more emphatically that, unless the (discharge) permit is issued immediately, Mount Polley mine will experience another breach,” wrote Williams Lake Mayor Walter Cobb in a letter to Christy Clark.

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“Due to heavy snowfall, the water is rising at a significantly accelerated level; should the water discharge permit not be granted immediately, our region will suffer another environmental disaster.”

At issue is the Springer Pit, located to the northwest of last year’s breach, where the mine has been discharging tailings since reopening.

Water and tailing levels must be under 1,030 metres high – 20 metres from the pit’s edge. Imperial Metals, which owns the mine, says levels are already within 6.5 metres of that level.

Imperial Metals applied months ago for a permit to dump processed tailings back into Quesnel Lake through a new treatment plant, but the government hasn’t approved it yet.

“We’ve been completely misled, and once again the health and well-being of the adjacent communities are put at risk as a result of the reckless irresponsible decisions of the Clark government,” said Grand Chief Stewart Philip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

While Chief Philip doesn’t want a permit issued, Cobb and Imperial Metals do. However, Minister of Mines Bill Bennett said any decision to approve a permit would come from government staff, not ministers.

“Mines are not allowed to discharge water off the mine site without a permit. The permit comes from the Minsitry of the Environment. I don’t make those decisions, neither does…Environment Minister Polak,” he said.

“It is statutory decision makers who make it, and they have to be satisfied based on legislation and regulations that we have in place, that it is appropriate to grant the discharge permit.”

The mine, which has been running at full capacity, may shut down if the permit doesn’t come quickly. Williams Lake City Council will hold an emergency meeting on Monday afternoon to update.

– With files from Ted Chernecki

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