First Nations' urgent calls about Imperial Metals' Mount Polley tailings breach allegedly went unanswered for hours

"When we followed up to find out what was going on, the mine was in a state of chaos," said a Shuswap First Nation councillor. He wonders why the company didn't contact the chief and council when news of the breach first came in. 

Shuswap First Nation councillor Willie Sellars grabbed up his phone to call Mount Polley Mining Corporation, owned by Imperial Metals, about the disastrous tailings pond breach shortly after dawn on Monday. No one answered. He would spend the next six hours dialing and re-dialing, trying to find someone from the company to explain what was going on. 

"I think I found out about 6 a.m. in the morning. I phoned all day, and I didn't get somebody picking up until the afternoon," he said, guessing it could have been 2 p.m. when he finally heard a human voice on the other line.

"It was an extension that some random person picked up, and I was passed on to the COO, Don Parsons. He couldn't give us any sort of response, and they still haven't been able to respond about what's going on up there. I think they didn't have a contingency plan in place." 

According to a 2011 report on the mine, "Neither a detailed monitoring plan nor a detailed emergency contingency plan had yet been developed" at the time. 

"Nobody from the provincial government or the company called us. I found out about it on Facebook, for Chrissakes," said Xat'sull (Soda Creek) First Nation Chief Bev Sellars. "Then Councillor Willie Sellars called asking if I'd heard about it, and I got another call from the Al Richmond of the Cariboo Regional District....we always have to go out of our way and push for information. The mine is on our traditional territory, and we have been basically excluded from everything. It's like we don't exist."

She said the 2011 report was commissioned because there was little faith in her community Mount Polley's self-regulation. 

"They wanted to hire their own consultant to write the report, but we refused. The government's been slapping them on the hand for the breaches." 

Disregard for agreement to inform First Nations

Willie Sellars said the mining company actually had an obligation to inform the surrounding First Nation bands, but that the company never called about the disaster.

"It was discouraging for us, because we have an agreement with Imperial Metals about Mount Polley Mine. Part of the protocol is that they give us a call whenever there's any kind of incident -- we're supposed to be one of the first to find out. But we didn't find out about it from the mine company itself. We found out about it from an employee at the mine," he said. 

"When we followed up to find out what was going on, the mine was in a state of chaos."

Williams Lake Band Chief Ann Louie said she is in "shock" over the Mount Polley tailings pond breach and praised Sellars' persistence in reaching the company. 

"They never contacted myself or Chief Bev Sellars," she said. "It was only because of the persistence of Councillor Sellars calling and calling that he finally got someone on the phone before we had any contact with them. They didn't contact chiefs or band councillors in any way, shape or form. Neither did any government officials." 

Imperial Metals did not respond to requests for comment prior to publication, but held a press conference in Likely, BC, yesterday, saying the Mount Polley mine has been stabilized but the investigation is ongoing. 

"I apologize for what happened," Kynoch said. "If you had asked me two weeks ago if that could happen, I would have said it couldn't happen, so I know that for our company it's going to take a long time to earn the community's trust back."

"(Imperial Metals) must be held accountable for this disaster," she said. "This disaster has affected the lives of all people in Likely and surrounding areas  and they were provided very little useful information yesterday." 

Councillor Sellars said his conversations with technical staff suggest some top-ranking officials at the Mining Ministry had only just started hearing about the news in the afternoon. 

A comment from the BC government is pending. 

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