Several reports have been published related to various aspects of the August 2014 tailings pond failure at Mount Polley mine in British Columbia. Additional investigations are still underway, from the Canadian government as well as from mine owner Imperial Metals.
“It’s probable Mount Polley will get a permit to open in the next couple of weeks.” – Bill Bennett, British Columbia Energy and Mines Minister, June 30, 2015
After the tailings dam breached at Mount Polley mine in British Columbia, Canada, last August and discharged contaminants into a Fraser River tributary, Alaska developers urged the public to avoid speculation on the cause and wait for a thorough investigation to be conducted. The Mount Polley breach would provide lessons for mining companies all over the world, Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) CEO Tom Collier said.
Now that the mine is likely to reopen, what lessons have been learned?
At the time of the breach, some Alaskans expressed concern about the dam failure for a few reasons. Mount Polley is owned by Imperial Metals, the same company that recently opened the Red Chris copper mine upstream from the Stikine River, noted as one of the largest salmon habitats in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Additionally, the engineer of record for the failed tailings dam at Mount Polley is Knight Piesold, the same company PLP contracted to design the tailings facility at the proposed Pebble mine.
Federal Judge H. Russel Holland heard oral arguments Thursday in one of the cases Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) has brought against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In this case, PLP asserts that EPA violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) during the process of developing the 2014 Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, a document the EPA took into account when deciding to initiate the rarely used 404(c) process to consider protections for a defined area in Bristol Bay near the Pebble deposit.
EPA was in the midst of the 404(c) process last fall when Judge Holland approved a preliminary injunction that forbade further work on it until a decision could be made in the FACA case.
EPA has asked the court to dismiss the case.
During closing arguments, Brad Rosenberg of the U.S. Department of Justice argued, “Let’s just assume for a moment that EPA had perhaps already made up its mind in 2010 or 2008 that it wanted to impose some form of restrictions on the Pebble mine site … that’s not a FACA violation. Agencies sometimes have opinions, just as this court may have an opinion on how it’s going to rule on the government’s motion to dismiss before I get up here and argue that it should do so.”
Judge Holland nodded. After hearing arguments from both sides, he said that he would make a decision as quickly as he could, but “there are a lot of issues to grapple with here.”
Yup'ik Elder Bobby Andrew, who had spoken out for years against the development of the proposed Pebble mine, died May 12 of natural causes at his cabin at Lake Alegnagik. The 72-year-old had frequently travelled far beyond his native Bristol Bay to speak out about the impact he believed the mine would have on the fishery and the people of the region. He spoke to legislators in Washington D.C. and to Anglo American and Rio Tinto mining executives in London (companies that subsequently pulled away from the project). He testified to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in support of its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment, and pushed for the agency to complete Section 404(c) proceedings that would limit development at the Pebble deposit.
Locally, he had served on the Alegnagik Tribal Council, the Nushagak Mulchatna Watershed Council, and the Nushagak-Mulchatna Wood-Tikchik Land Trust, and as spokesperson for Nunamta Aulukestai (Caretakers of Our Land), an association of eight Alaska Native villages in Bristol Bay. Andrew was a central character in the 2013 documentary film, "We Can't Eat Gold," in which he states, "We can't eat gold, but we can eat salmon."
Photo credit: Giovanna Marcantonio. Bobby Andrew on the set of "We Can't Eat Gold."
Image credit: EPA public document. Bobby Andrew testified to the EPA numerous times in support of protections for Bristol Bay.
Links to some of Bobby Andrew's work speaking out about Pebble mine:
About Pebble Watch
Pebble Watch is an impartial, educational and fact-based initiative of the BBNC Land Department to disseminate information regarding the proposed Pebble Mine project to BBNC shareholders and interested parties.