EDITORIAL – Mount Polley decision reminds us that Ajax is still here

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

MOUNT POLLEY has been in the news this week. In 2014, it was in the news a lot more.

On Aug. 4 of that year, the walls of the dam holding back tailings collapsed, sending a torrent of wastewater — 20 million cubic metres of it — down Hazeltine Creek and into Quesnel Lake.

There was so much of it, it took four days for the pond to empty, and raised the level of the lake by almost five feet. It was one of Canada’s worst mining disasters.

An independent engineering assessment ordered by the government in the wake of the spill released a decision this week fining three engineers involved in the design of the tailings pond.

While changes have been made to requirements for tailings storage at mines, concerns remain about enforcement. Some watchdogs predict there will be more failures.

The Mount Polley disaster, and the fines levied on the design engineers this week, should serve as a reminder that Kamloops narrowly escaped having a massive tailings pond constructed in the hills above the city. It would have been three times the size of the one at Mount Polley.

It was, of course, part of plans for the Ajax mine, and would have been built between Jacko Lake and Goose Lake. In theory, a major breach of that pond could have sent the contents rushing down Peterson Creek and right through Kamloops into the South Thompson River.

One prominent Ajax opponent claimed, “The tailings sludge and massive piles of waste rock will be perched like a time bomb on the hills above Kamloops forever.”

Thankfully, the Ajax project was rejected by both the federal and provincial governments, but it hasn’t gone away. Ajax still has a skeleton presence in Kamloops and its owners say it might lead to a new application for an environmental permit.

The ghost of the Mount Polley disaster should remind us not to become complacent.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at

About Mel Rothenburger (9648 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.

1 Comment on EDITORIAL – Mount Polley decision reminds us that Ajax is still here

  1. A skeleton presence….aptly ironic, or ironically apt….?

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