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Mine dam inspections ordered across B.C.

Satellite image taken the day after Mount Polley mine tailings breach shows drained tailings dam and spill that backed into Polley Lake and down Hazeltine Creek to Quesnel Lake.  - NASA Earth Observatory
Satellite image taken the day after Mount Polley mine tailings breach shows drained tailings dam and spill that backed into Polley Lake and down Hazeltine Creek to Quesnel Lake.
— image credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Independent engineering inspections have been ordered for Mount Polley mine near Williams Lake and nearly 100 other mine tailings ponds with permits across the province, with reports to be complete by the end of January.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett announced the dual reviews Monday. The Mount Polley investigation is to be complete by Jan. 31 and will be done concurrently with the B.C. government's legally required probes by B.C.'s chief inspector of mines and the environment ministry, which looks at the longer-term effects of the Aug. 4 tailings spill.

Bennett said costs will be covered by Imperial Metals for Mount Polley and by all operators of mines with permits to operate nearly 100 tailings facilities in B.C.

"Certainly in the last 40 years there's no evidence of a tailings dam breach in British Columbia, but rare or not, it happened, and so the public's confidence I think is shaken" Bennett said at a news conference in Vancouver. "That's why we need to get these three experts involved as quickly as we're getting them involved."

The Mount Polley panel includes UBC mine engineering professor Dirk Van Zyl, U.S. consulting engineer Steven Vick, whose earlier investigations included the 2005 New Orleans levee breach that followed Hurricane Katrina, and Norbert Morgenstern, an Alberta civil engineering professor who has worked on 140 mine projects.

Bennett said the panel was chosen with approval of the Williams Lake and Soda Creek Indian Bands, and their report will be made available to the band councils at the same time as government.

Independent inspections of other mine tailings ponds must be completed Dec. 1, a change from the March 31 deadline for inspections that are required annually. Bennett said these inspections will each have to be reviewed by an independent geotechnical engineering firm.

 

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