Mount Polley: officials reassure Alaska, mine lays off workers, investigators ask for public input

In an effort to restore Alaskans’ confidence in Canadian mining, British Columbia’s Energy Minister Bill Bennett addressed the Alaska Miners Association’s annual meeting, held in early November.

Bennett gave an update on the Canadian government’s response to the Aug. 4 Mount Polley breach, where the tailings pond at the mine failed, ultimately discharging an estimated 2.6 billion gallons of waste water and 1.3 billion cubic yards of tailings into the watershed in the Polley Lake/Hazeltine Creek area, a tributary of the Fraser River.

The AMA meeting was just one stop on his mission to try to regain confidence in Canadian mining projects, some of which are located upstream of fish-bearing waters in Southeast Alaska.

The spill heightened Alaskans’ awareness of the risks posed by the proposed Pebble mine. Officials with Pebble Limited Partnership often extolled the Canadian mines along the Fraser River as successful examples of the ability for mining and fishing to co-exist.

The causes and ultimate effects of the Mount Polley spill are still under investigation, but there are some new developments since our last article:

Millions spent, workers laid off: While the investigation into the cause of the tailings breach continues, owner Imperial Metals struggles to find a way to reopen and keep its workforce intact. It’s already spent more than $20 million on costs related to the breach, with some analysts predicting an expense of hundreds of millions before clean-up is complete. Mount Polley has been under forced closure since the breach, but is working on a plan to store tailings in another facility to resume operations. The company laid off 36 employees, mainly truck drivers and drillers, last week, leaving 294 full-time employees, most of them working on clean-up. Before the breach, Mount Polley employed 380 unionized employees.

Investigation calls for public input: An independent panel appointed in August is charged with determining the cause of the breach. Last week it put out a call for the public to submit ideas about what happened. The review panel promises a professional, unbiased report by late January, 2015, and is hoping that individuals and organizations “can contribute to our understanding of the factors and underlying causes of this dam failure so we can determine the cause and identify actions that can be taken to avoid future such incidents.” This review panel is only looking at the factors that caused the breach. It is not investigating environmental impact or liability.

Environmental updates continue: In his presentation to the AMA, Bennett is quoted as downplaying the breach’s effects on fish, saying, “We know of one trout that died as a result of the accident.” However, the Pacific Salmon Commission noted shortly after the spill that effects on juvenile salmon would not be known for some time. Imperial Metals continues to release information about the physical findings in the areas most impacted by the breach, namely Quesnal Lake and Hazeltine Creek. These include the turbidity of the water in Quesnal Lake and whether chemicals used in the mining process have been sampled in the lake. These factors could contribute to the health and habitat of salmon in the future.

Recent Reports

Mine processeing reagents

Soil quality

Quesnal Lake cloudiness


Mount Polley in the news:

Imperial Metals earnings hint at clean up bill for Mount Polley (Financial Post, Nov. 17, 2014)

Mount Polley expert panel calls for public submissions into dam collapse (Vancouver Sun, Nov 15, 2014)

Imperial Metals hopes for speedy reopening of B.C.’s Mount Polley mine (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 13, 2014)

Layoffs announced for Mount Polley mine (Williams Lake News, Nov. 11, 2014)

At Alaska mining conference, talk of Pebble and Mount Polley (Alaska Dispatch News, Nov. 6, 2014)

Mines minister trying to regain Alaska’s confidence in B.C. (, Nov. 5, 2014)

B.C. energy minister in Alaska to calm mining spill concerns (The Globe and Mail, Nov. 5, 2014)

In Polley’s wake, downstream Alaska fears B.C.’s mining boom (The Tyee, Nov. 1, 2014)

Council highlights the importance of Mt. Polley returning to full operations (, Oct. 30, 2014)

Mount Polley residents take a tour of the damage (, Oct. 30, 2014)