Courtesy of the BC Environment Ministry:
The first phase of a long-term remediation plan for the area impacted by the Mount Polley breach focuses on human health and environmental safety through the winter and spring, to June 2015. A progress report on Mount Polley Mining Corporation’s remediation plan, focusing on Phase One of a longer-term plan, was released by Environment Minister Mary Polak.
The company has already completed or initiated many components of Phase One, toward achieving three key outcomes, which will ensure:
No further unauthorized discharges into Hazeltine Creek;
The impact zone will be stabilized to manage seasonal events; and
Water quality entering Quesnel Lake and at the outer edge of the impact zone will meet provincial water quality guidelines.
Deliverables of Phase One of the longer-term plan are contained in a letter to the company outlining what actions have been completed to the ministry’s satisfaction, and what actions still need to be taken over the short-term. This letter, along with the progress report and other supporting documents can be found online at: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/eemp/incidents/2014/mount-polley/updates.htm
To achieve compliance with Phase One objectives, a number of erosion mitigation measures are completed or underway, including a silt fence installation at the mouth of Hazeltine Creek, re-contouring, flow diversion, Polley Lake outlet flow control and installation and operation of settling ponds at Lower Hazeltine Creek. Steps to protect the area from additional environmental damage due to increased water flow from thawing snow, known as the spring freshet, are also part of this first phase.
Phase two of the long-term plan covers the timeframe from July 2015 to August 2016, and focuses on remediating the impacts of the breach. During this period, the ministry will work with the company to implement longer term mitigation strategies ensuring the health of Hazeltine Creek, and Quesnel and Polley Lakes, while continuing to monitor the company’s compliance with the Environmental Management Act and the Pollution Abatement Order.
The company is also expected to finalize and implement a long-term monitoring plan as part of Phase Two.
Since the breach occurred on Aug. 4, 2014, Mount Polley Mining Corporation has submitted a series of plans and actions the company has taken in response to the breach to the ministry for review. These plans have been reviewed by Environment ministry staff, along with an environmental working group and an independent science panel, with refinements relayed to the company on an ongoing basis.
To assess both immediate and potentially longer term impacts from the breach, ministry staff have been taking water, sediment, fish tissue and plankton samples from waterways impacted by the tailings spill since the breach occurred. Initial findings indicate metal concentrations from outside of the impact zone are below B.C. drinking water guidelines.
Following this period of intensive sampling the ministry is now transitioning to an auditing role, continuing to work with the mine, other provincial and federal agencies, First Nations, academia and local communities to establish an integrated approach to further monitoring. Installation of five monitoring buoys to collect water quality data on the sediment plume in Quesnel Lake over the winter months is a result of this work.
The Mount Polley Mining Corporation is responsible for the entire cost of the breach including the cleanup, remediation and site restoration. The ministry will continue to oversee all work undertaken by the company to ensure a long-term environmental monitoring program is implemented.
Mary Polak, Minister of the Environment says -
“While full environmental remediation will take years, this first phase of the longer term plan sets a clear path towards the recovery process. We will continue to work closely with the mine, First Nations and local communities to ensure the necessary mitigation plans are in place to restore the land back to its original state as best we can. The first phase of this plan will stabilize the environment during the spring freshet and ensure cleanup efforts remain on track.”
On Aug. 4, 2014, the tailings storage facility at Mount Polley Mine breached releasing approximately 17 million cubic meters of water and eight million cubic meters of tailings into Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake.
The Ministry issued a Pollution Abatement Order (PAO) on Aug. 5, 2014, under the Environmental Management Act to abate the discharge, undertake an environmental impact assessment of the release, and implement remediation activities. Failure to comply with the PAO could lead to a maximum fine of $300,000 per day and up to six months in jail.
Ministry of Environment staff have been on the ground since the breach occurred providing support to the impacted community, First Nations and local government.
The cause of the breach is unknown at this time. Three separate investigations to determine the cause of the impact of the breach are underway.
All planning documents developed by Mount Polley Mining Corporation are publically available on the Ministry of Environment’s dedicated Mount Polley site: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/eemp/incidents/2014/mount-polley.htm