Residents calling it an environmental disaster: tailings pond breach at Mount Polley Mine near Likely, BC – by Paula Baker, Marlisse Silver Sweeney and Justin McElroy (Global News – August 4, 2014)

Local residents are calling it an environmental disaster. A breach of the tailings pond on Mount Polley Mine sent five million cubic metres of toxic waste into Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake, with fears it could spread far and wide in the coming days.

Residents in the area, along with visitors to waterways near the Mount Polley Mine close to Likely, B.C., have been issued a complete water ban. Affecting close to 300 homes, it extends to the entire Quesnel and Cariboo River systems up to the Fraser River, including Quesnel Lake, Cariboo Creek, Hazeltine Creek and Polley Lake.

People in Quesnel are also being asked to avoid using water from the Quesnel River, and late in the day the Cariboo Regional District extended the water advisory right to the Fraser River – although they said that was a precautionary measure.

There are already concerns that the total damage will be immense. The sheer volume of toxic slurry from the pond – equivalent to 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools – caused Hazeltine Creek to expand from four feet in width to 150, and some of the sludge has already made its way into Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake.

Phil Owens, a professor at the University of Northern British Columbia and researcher with the Quesnel River Research Centre, says it’s impossible to know at this stage where the tailings will stop.

“Once something starts, it will just cascade down through the chain,” he said.

“We don’t know when it will stop, and we don’t know when it will move through the system.”

Al Richmond, the Cariboo Regional District Chair and Area G Director told Global News that clean-up is premature at this point and officials are still assessing the situation.

“Our concern mainly is first of all for life and limb and there’s been no one injured in this event and for that we’re thankful,” he said. “Our next concern is for the community of Likely and those folks living around Likely that their water supply is safe and potable for them to use.”

The Ministry of Environment said the breach at Mount Polley Mine happened in the middle of the night on August 4. The ministry. along with the Cariboo Regional District (CRD), RCMP, Central Cariboo Search and Rescue and emergency management crews are investigating and assessing the possible environmental impact.

Mount Polley Mine is an open pit copper and gold mine, which is operated by Imperial Metals Corporation. The dam that holds back the tailings pond is an earth-filled dam.

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