Mount Polley Mine tailings-pond breach raises new questions

Video of breach taken by Cariboo Regional District.

Video of breach taken by Cariboo Regional District.

TUESDAY MORNING EDITORIAL — It didn’t take long after Monday’s news from the Mount Polley Mine for speculation to start about the possible consequences of a breach in the Ajax tailings pond.

Jacko Lake, proposed tailings pond, Lack le Jeune Road. (Ajax video)

Video rendering of proposed Ajax pond.

The breach at Mount Polley Mine occurred in the early morning hours Monday, sending a torrent of water down adjacent streams toward Quesnel Lake and other bodies of water. At this writing, authorities have slapped a complete ban on the use of possibly contaminated water, including for bathing, and are scrambling to assess the total impact of the break in the tailing’s pond’s dike.

“Is this what a mine tailings pond breach would like like at #Ajax Mine?” asked one tweet.

And, certainly, many will be envisioning the possible consequences of a similar scenario at Ajax should the mine go ahead — KGHM International’s new site plan for the mine switched a dry tailings stack to a wet tailings pond.

That pond, as shown on an artist’s rendering, is dammed on its northern edge from Peterson Creek. The change is one of the concerns that led to successful demands for a new public comment period on Ajax.

Questions will now, no doubt, be asked about the potential for a Mount Polley-style breach that would send contaminated contents of the Ajax tailings pond into Peterson Creek and through downtown to the South Thompson River.

While the mouth of Peterson Creek is downstream from the City’s drinking-water intake, it’s upstream from Riverside Park and many communities along the Thompson River system.

Whether there are any relevant or fair grounds for comparisons with the disturbing situation in the Cariboo remains to be seen, but the new public comment period — assuming the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office agrees to a City of Kamloops request to hold one — will surely take on even more importance as questions are raised about how KGHM International will ensure it can’t happen here.


About Mel Rothenburger (7143 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

12 Comments on Mount Polley Mine tailings-pond breach raises new questions

  1. John Goldsmith // August 5, 2014 at 3:07 PM // Reply

    Once and for all just STOP the redevelopment of Ajax. Teck closed it in 1997 because it was uneconomic given the low grades, lack of size, and the price of copper. KGHM proposed scale of operations is many times greater compared to what historically was accomplished by the old Ajax over a ten year period ended in 1997. Mines designed and operated at the scale KGHM wishes approved should never be located anywhere near urban areas PERIOD.
    Have you driven by HIGHLAND VALLEY COPPER, the scale of this operation is hard to believe (it takes around 20 minutes to dive by it) and it’s tailing pond is larger than most fresh water lakes in the Kamloops region, and it is roughly 60 Km’s away from Kamloops, not 1.25 Km’s as Ajax is.
    Last point, yes payroll cheques are very important, however this type of consideration must fit in with the overall risk profile and not lead the consideration for a high risk endeavor……

  2. Remember building castles at the beach or dams to keep the incoming tide out.
    They had to be very wide to hold water and these were not.
    How did these engineers play when they were kids?
    Our current over-protected helicopter-parented kids may have no common sense on which to build their future.
    The run-off via Peterson Creek on THE Wednesday, was one uprooted tree plugging one of the many culverts on it’s way to the South Thompson, short of a local disaster. Imagine it spilling at Columbia St. or St.Paul St. or the Memorial Arena.
    Check the damage where the flow from Sahali enters Peterson Creek just south of Glenfair.
    WE are getting plenty of warnings City Council, MLA’s and MP!!!

  3. Prior to B.C day 2014 , was the Mt. Polley tailings pond on the Environmental Protections Branch radar, the DFO’s radar ? What was the recent rainfall in that region ?

  4. According to the Vancouver Sun, as far back as 2011 the BC government was told about concerns with this tailings pond not holding. Raises some questions for Terry Lake as he was environment minister at that time.

    • Lyman Duff // August 5, 2014 at 7:45 PM // Reply

      That is a good article. Thanks for bring it to our attention. However, isn’t that the job of the “journalists”?

  5. Pierce graham // August 5, 2014 at 9:02 AM // Reply

    KGHM cannot “ensure” that a disaster like the Polley breach will not occur. One look at the map and the terrain reveals a recipe for a similar disaster. All the profits in the world are not worth the risk. And those people expecting to profit from the mine bear absolutely zero risk for such a disaster. When will we learn what we are doing to our habitat in the name of “progress”?

  6. Sean McGuinness // August 5, 2014 at 8:45 AM // Reply

    This should give people pause to think. This accident illustrates why one should not build these mines close to where you have large population of people. If we have building codes which prevent us from constructing buildings which could be unsafe in the event of a fire, why should we allow mines to be built if events such as this could be catastrophic for our city?

  7. Cynthia Ross Friedman // August 5, 2014 at 8:41 AM // Reply

    Hi Mel – you speak of a new public comment period for the proposed Ajax Mine: “… but the new public comment period will surely take on even more importance…”. I think it is just the phrasing you used, for you make it sound like the assessment process will definitely include a new public comment period. Alas, City Council plans to ask for a new comment period, but there is absolutely no guarantee that the BC Environmental Assessment Office will actually grant one. Foolish and unbelievable, yes, but it is possible that the public could be denied the right to question whether the new mine configuration (e.g., a tailings pond instead of a dry stack tailings pile) will have an impact on the assessment information requirements.

    • Mel Rothenburger // August 5, 2014 at 9:01 AM // Reply

      You are correct, of course – we shouldn’t assume anything. I’ve inserted a clarification into the editorial. Thanks.

  8. LAWRENCE BEATON // August 5, 2014 at 7:19 AM // Reply

    You are absolutely correct in posing the questions concerning the wet tailings pond at the proposed Ajax mine site. As soon as I heard about the very unfortunate and tragic incident at Mt. Polley Mine, it became apparent that KGHM is indeed going to have to work very hard to lessen the concerns of the people living in the Thompson River watershed. I am also very concerned about the fact that the owners of the Polley Mine site failed to quickly respond in the media to the tragic events surrounding the mine and the breach in the earthen dike. Why was earth used and not concrete.

    • Because using Earth is cheaper most likely and these companies want to make money, not spend it. An earthen dam most likely is allowed in the environmental approval process, which begs the question, that if these spills can occur, how much insurance should the mine have for a cleanup? And should the process be changed to make the tailings dams safer?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: