By Gordon Hoekstra, Vancouver Sun
An industry rating for Imperial Metals’ management of the water and potentially toxic finely-ground rock from its Mount Polley mine will not be released. In this file photo: Contents from a tailings pond is pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely, B.C. on August, 5, 2014. The pond which stores toxic waste from the Mount Polley Mine had its dam break on Monday spilling its contents into the Hazeltine Creek causing a wide water-use ban in the area.
An industry rating for Imperial Metals’ management of the water and potentially toxic finely-ground rock from its Mount Polley mine will not be released.
The Mining Association of Canada made the decision as a result of the collapse of the earth-and-rock dam that had held back millions of cubic metres of water and fine-rock tailings at Mount Polley.
The self-audited grades would have been compiled before the Aug. 4 dam collapse in the B.C. Interior, about an hour by road southeast of Williams Lake.
Imperial Metals was supposed to report out its tailings management grades for the gold and copper mine — as part of a program to improve mining practices — for the first time late last year.
At least one member of a community of interest advisory panel for the mining association says the grade should have been reported out, as the idea behind the five rankings (ranging from C to AAA) is to provide transparency and accountability to the public.
The mining association should reveal Mount Polley’s scoring, said Nathan Lemphers, a former official with the Pembina Institute who is pursuing a PhD at the University of Toronto.
“It sets an example and expectation of what is required by companies, and also an opportunity for the mining association to see how accurately the process can flag potential concerns before they take place,” said Lemphers.
Mining Association of Canada (MAC) president Pierre Gratton said the association felt it would be inappropriate to publish the company’s results in light of the tailings dam collapse. “The (association) members wanted to have more comfort and more confidence in what Imperial had assessed themselves at, and asked them to do a re-assessment,” he said.
Gratton did not directly answer a question on whether the company was asked to reassess their tailings management because the grade they had given themselves was good, and it would have been embarrassing to report it.
Instead, Gratton said given the tailings dam collapse the association believed it was important to get a rating verified by a third party before reporting it.
Asked also whether the public would have been interested in finding out how the company graded its tailings management under the industry program, Gratton agreed that was likely so, but believed their decision was the appropriate one.
The release of millions of cubic metres of water and potentially toxic tailings from the Imperial Metals’ mine on Aug. 4 was among the largest in the world during the past 50 years. It has sparked widespread concerns about the long-term effects on the Quesnel Lake watershed and has put intense scrutiny on tailings dam safety in British Columbia.
The mining association’s decision to withhold the results veers from normal practice.
Usually after two years in the association program — called Towards Sustainable Management — a company reports its self-determined grades. Taseko Mines reported its tailings management results, as expected, for the first time in the 2014 report.
And in the fourth year, the company would report results audited by a third party although they can do so earlier.