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Friday, August 8, 2014

B.C. premier says results from water tests after mine tailings spill 'promising' By Dene Moore

THE CANADIAN PRESS

LIKELY, B.C.- Initial tests from water contaminated by a tailings breach at a British Columbia mine are "promising," Premier Christy Clark said Thursday, but she declined to reveal the results until a community meeting with residents.

A dam holding back the tailings pond at Imperial Metals' Mount Polley gold and copper mine in central B.C. burst open on Monday, releasing 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of potentially toxic silt into adjacent lakes, rivers and creeks.

Government officials have acknowledged they still don't know what leaked out, though preliminary test results were expected Thursday.

Clark, who arrived in Likely, B.C., which is located near the mine about 600 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, said she would have good news to share with residents at a meeting scheduled for later in the afternoon.

"It's promising; it's one day of sampling, though," Clark told reports in a waterfront park after participating in ceremony with area First Nations.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed. It's good to get good luck and the beginning and hopefully keep that good luck going."

The spill prompted a ban on drinking or bathing in water in the area. There is also concern that toxic heavy metals from the tailings could have a long-lasting impact on the environment and salmon stocks.

The provincial Environment Ministry ordered Imperial Metals Corp. (TSX:III) to immediately take action to prevent additional water and silt from leaking out of the tailings pond, account for what was in the tailings and provide a plan to clean it up. The ministry has said the company could face fines or even jail time if it fails to comply.

The province said the company met a Wednesday deadline to provide a plan to stop continued pollution and for a preliminary environmental assessment and cleanup, though the documents have not been released publicly. Additional deadlines are set for next week.

Clark viewed the spill from the air and described what she saw as "nothing less than astonishing."

"I'm profoundly concerned about what's happened," she said.

"This is one of the cleanest, most pristine lakes anywhere in the world.... We want to find a way to get it to its previous pristine state."

The provincial government is investigating the spill and has pledged to hold anyone found to be responsible accountable.

Clark said the company has legal duties to clean up the spill and could face fines if it fails to comply.

"It's still a mystery how it happened," said Clark.

"Once we've determined the cause of that, it will be much easier to assign responsibility and to hold people accountable."

At an unrelated event in Montreal on Thursday, federal Industry Minister James Moore also said taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook for the disaster and that "those who are responsible for this should pay."

The company has apologized for the spill, though it has also suggested the water and silt that escaped from the tailings pond is safe. Company president Brian Kynoch said the tailings pond water is almost drinkable, while he described the solids as "relatively benign."

Additional water testing results are expected to follow in the coming days. The Environment Ministry says it has yet to take samples of the silt that spilled from the tailings pond due to safety concerns.

A summary of material dumped into the tailings pond filed last year with Environment Canada listed 326 tonnes of nickel, over 400,000 kilograms of arsenic, 177,000 kilograms of lead and 18,400 tonnes of copper and its compounds, though a significant amount of silt remains in the tailings pond.

On Monday, the same day as the breach, the company sent the provincial government data about the tailings pond water, which showed levels of selenium exceeded drinking-water guidelines and organic carbon concentrations exceeded guidelines for chlorinated water. Nitrate, cadmium, copper, iron and selenium have exceeded aquatic life guidelines at least sporadically in recent years.

On Thursday, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed recreational salmon fishing in the Quesnel and Cariboo rivers.

The department said in a written statement that it is monitoring the situation, though it noted it's still not clear how the spill will affect the water.

Sockeye salmon are currently migrating toward the Quesnel Lake system.

Quesnel Lake and the Quesnel River are considered important breeding grounds for wild salmon, as are other nearby creeks. The system eventually reaches the Fraser River.

The spill has also raised questions about another Imperial Metals project in the province.

The Red Chris Mine in northwestern B.C., south of the community of Dease Lake, is currently under construction, and the company is discussing a potential benefit agreement with a local First Nation, the Tahltan Central Council.

"This latest news obviously means we have new questions and concerns that we must discuss with Imperial Metals about the tailings ponds at Red Chris," Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Council, wrote in a letter to his community that was posted to the council's website.

The letter said the council will give Imperial Metals time to deal with the spill at Mount Polley before pressing its concerns about the Red Chris Mine. -CP- With files from James Keller in Vancouver

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