B.C. First Nations urge province not to cherry-pick from mine report advice

VANCOUVER – First Nations leaders are urging the B.C. government to adopt each of the seven recommendations laid out in a review of the Mount Polley mine disaster.

First Nations Summit Grand Chief Ed John said the resulting “massive breach of public confidence” means the province cannot afford to cherry-pick from the conclusions of a report into a tailings dam failure in the province’s Interior.

John made the comments Tuesday, the same day Imperial Metals Corp. (TSX:III) announced conservation and fisheries’ officers served search warrants on the company’s headquarters and Mount Polley offices as part of an investigation into possible breaches of the Fisheries Act.

“I think when you mix water and tailings it’s a recipe for disaster,” John told a news conference Tuesday, commending the work of a government-ordered expert panel that blamed poor dam design for the collapse at the open pit gold and copper mine.

The report, released last week, said building the mine’s tailings site on a sloped glacial lake failed to account for drainage and erosion.

It likened the ad hoc approach to the pond’s design and construction to loading a gun and pulling the trigger.

“We urge the province of British Columbia … to know and understand this is not a smorgasbord,” said Grand Chief Stewart Philip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs about the seven recommendations.

He called on the B.C. government to take immediate action in implementing the panel’s conclusions.

“There has to be serious mining reform, there has to be safer oversight,” he said, adding the need for an overhaul of the regulatory regime.

Meantime, the company said it understands that warrants are a normal means of investigation and it has co-operated fully with the regulatory authorities.

The dam’s collapse in the early hours of Aug. 4 last year sent 24 million cubic metres of wastewater gushing into nearby lakes and streams in an event Philip described as one of the worst disasters in Canadian mining history.

The failure could not have happened at a worse time, said Xat’sull Chief Bev Sellars, describing the impact on the Fraser River’s migrating salmon population.

“Very few people fished in the river this year,” she said. “There were a lot of empty freezers and a lot of empty smokehouses.”

She described the absence of First Nations participation in the province’s mining industry as a “huge gap.”

“The First Nations are not involved when these decisions are made and we’re going to change that.”

Imperial Metals Corp. has said the tailings pond storage facility was constructed in accordance with engineering standards.

The company said the panel report stated the weaker glacial till was found eight metres below the dam’s surface, much deeper than assumed by the design criteria.

Mines Minister Bill Bennett said in a statement that the government will require all mines with tailing storage facilities to establish independent tailings dam review boards.

There are currently 98 permitted tailings storage facilities in the province, with 123 dams at 60 metal and coal mines in B.C.

Bennett said the government would also establish a review group, which would include First Nations representation, to discuss implementing the remaining panel recommendations.

The province is awaiting results of two other reports on the Mount Polley mine disaster — one from the chief inspector of mines and another from the Conservation Officer Service. Both are expected to be released sometime this summer.