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Probing the Details of the Government Mitigation Plan for Mount Polley

Today in the legislature I was up in Question Period. I took the opportunity to ask the government to outline the steps they are taking to address growing concerns about the lack of response to the short-term environmental, social and economic impacts stemming from the Mount Polley tailings pond breach. Below is the text of my exchange with the Minister of the Environment. I think you will find that it was a very informative discussion.


MY QUESTION


Honourable speaker, It does not serve the public interest to either overestimate or underestimate the scale of what happened at Mount Polley.

We know that on August 4th 2014, the tailings pond at Mount Polley mine breached and 25 million cubic metres of water, tailings and construction material was released into Hazleton Creek, Lake Polley and Quesnel Lake. We also know that on August 5th the Ministry of Environment issued a Pollution Abatement Order to Mount Polley Mining Corporation to comply with a detailed list of requirements pursuant to Section 83 of the Environmental Management Act.

Madame speaker, in May of this year (just weeks before the Mount Polley incident), and after extensive consultation with a variety of stakeholders, the Ministry developed both a Policy on, and accompanying Procedures for, Mitigating Impacts on Environmental Values.

My question through you, honourable speaker, to the Minister of the Environment is this:

The government has an environmental mitigation policy and procedure. Is the government applying them to Mount Polley disaster as part of the pollution abatement order. If not, why not?


MINISTER POLAK’S RESPONSE


I thank the member for the question. We would not ordinarily apply the environmental mitigation policy and procedure to a situation like this, simply because it’s really designed for activities that avoid, minimize, restore or offset what we see as foreseeable impacts of developments when we’re in the planning phase.

However, in this instance — and, of course, it’s unprecedented — I’m advised by staff that as they are reviewing the long-term remediation plan and the comprehensive environmental impact assessment, they’re finding that these guidelines are proving very useful as tools in order to fully develop that plan. It doesn’t directly relate, but it certainly is a part of the review that the ministry, along with other agencies, is conducting on the long-term plan.


MY SUPPLEMENTAL QUESTION


Honourable Speaker, I recently visited the Mount Polley region.

I’ve spoken with local residents, First Nations, mining officials, limnologists, geologists, geochemists and many others. Numerous British Columbians have independently contacted me.

Honourable speaker it is clear to me that British Columbians want to know how government plans to:

  • deal with any local environmental impacts;
  • deal with any local social impacts;
  • deal with the significance that this event is having on the BC mining industry – a pillar of BC’s economy

My question through you to the minister is this. Will the government please outline its environmental, social and economic mitigation strategy for dealing with the repercussions of the Mount Polley tailings pond breach.


MINISTER POLAK’S RESPONSE


Of course, the member has very eloquently articulated just the breadth of the impact of this disaster. It really does take a holistic approach. I will touch only briefly on the responsibilities of other ministries and then outline what’s next in terms of the Ministry of Environment.

I’ve mentioned earlier on that the Ministries of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation have had people in the area working directly with communities, with First Nations. In terms of mining, I know that the Minister of Energy and Mines has been in regular conversations with leaders in the mining industry broadly about the issues this presents for them.

For us…. And it’s very important for me to acknowledge the work of some very key people, that being the Quesnel River Research Centre through UNBC and also one of our key staff people, Jennifer McGuire, who is the head of our regional operations in environmental protection.

We have, as a result, arrived at a couple of working groups, one of which, the environmental working group, you will be aware of from the letter of understanding that we have with the two First Nations. There’s also the Mount Polley science advisory panel. I’ll just quickly…. Representative scientists from DFO, MOE, FLNRO, Environment Canada. There’s industry, of course, First Nations and other university researchers.

Lastly, in the end, they will review the plan. The first phase will take us to June of 2015. The rest of the plan will take us from June of 2015 out into the future. All of that will be made public when the reviews are complete.

3 Comments

  1. Jan Manaton-
    October 10, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Thank you for raising this issue in the legislature. The Mount Polley Disaster keeps revealing all kinds of things that are a perfect example of why this government needs to be held to account. Every week more information comes out that can be used to demonstrate the Liberal (liberal, really?) government’s core of corruption.

    Below is a link and an extract from Mining Watch Canada that bears following up because it is also pretty shocking…
    http://www.miningwatch.ca/blog/copper-quesnel-lake-one-many-concerns-aftermath-mount-polley-tailings-spill

    I am sure you don’t need help researching but in case you haven’t come across it, and missed the comment that raises a whole other line of enquiry, I’ve highlighted below….

    “An increase in E Coli in the water is another concern for local residents many of whom used to take water straight from the lake for drinking and domestic use. E Coli is a bacteria that typically indicates if water has come in contact with human sewage, although it may also come from animal faeces. The MOE reported levels of E Coli above drinking water standards in tests following the spill. While MOE’s memo states that E Coli was at levels typical of other lakes in BC and that it was not related to the spill, residents say E Coli was not an issue previously. Notably, Imperial was depositing sewage from the mine site into its tailings impoundment and stockpiling biosolids (aka sewage sludge) from Vancouver at the tailings facility. The biosolids were used for reclamation activities, although less than a quarter of the material brought to the site since 2000 has actually been used for reclamation (see 2013 Environmental and Reclamation Report). ”

    WHAT EXACTLY is Vancouver sewage doing up in a tailings pond in the Cariboo anyway?

    The way this mine was allowed to operate, the way the company’s owners bought the Liberals’ cooperation and ability to turn a blind eye, the hiding of public information (mine inspections) and everything else around this major disaster are a perfect indication that ecological disaster could easily reign in BC unless big changes are implemented.

  2. Daniel Clancy-
    October 9, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    I really appreciate your approach to question period Andrew. You refrain from inflammatory language and give the impression that you genuinely care about the issues. As a follower of the green party and an engineer in training you inspire me to join politics later in my career with the hope that it can occasionally be a civil and cooperative environment where representatives from across party lines can work together to the betterment of our whole society.

    Thank you for all your hard work!

    • October 9, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      Thank you Daniel. If you watch the

      (I am the last question) you will see a somewhat different approach to asking questions. There are a lot of good people in the legislative but I would agree that collective behaviour at times has much to be desired.