THURSDAY MORNING EDITORIAL — In no way should the seriousness of the Mount Polley Mine situation be under-estimated. While the immediate consequence is a ban on using surface water in the surrounding area even for so much as bathing, the potential long-term consequences are much more severe.
Among them are the loss of livelihoods among those who rely on the natural surroundings of the Cariboo and on the mining industry for jobs, not to mention a huge economic impact on the mining industry in general, plus environmental impacts that have yet to be assessed.
But let us not indulge in too much editorial hyperbole and political finger waving, either.
Much is being made of the fact the mine received several warnings from the B.C. Environment Ministry. Why didn’t Imperial Metals do something to avoid the burst wall in the tailings pond?
The provincial government, of course, is taking its share of heat, with analysts looking to budget cuts or lack of oversight as likely culprits.
Yet, as the Environment and Mines Ministries have explained, the five “advisories” handed out to the mine between August 2012 and this past May paint a less dramatic picture. The first warning was in connection with “exceedance” — trust government to come up with a word like that — of the height limit of effluent for a perimeter pond.
The next two were for not submitting monitoring data of one of the mine’s groundwater monitoring wells, and the next was for a blocked pump system that allowed overflow that was redirected before it reached a creek.
The most recent, in May, was for exceeding the height of effluent in the tailings pond, which gradually returned to the authorized level.
Certainly, such things should not be taken lightly. Some experts and past employees are being quoted as saying the company and government should have seen it coming, and maybe that will be shown to be so. There must be accountability for what happened.
And maybe it will be found that one or more of those five warnings is in some way connected to the spill but, at the moment, there are a lot more questions than there are answers.