The recent Mount Polley Mining tailing pond breach in Likely, B.C. should serve as a warning to all of us on Vancouver Island, none more so than those in charge of granting mining licences.
While media and political parties point the finger of blame this way and that, the bigger question is; who will pay for the cleanup?
Very likely, the majority of the bill will be footed by taxpayers.
Sure, Imperial Metals, which owns Mount Polley Mining Corp., is apt to be slapped with a hefty fine – some reports are suggesting amounts up to $1 million – but that would barely begin to cover the costs of reclaiming the waters, should they be deemed critically contaminated.
There was a comparable tailings pond breach in the state of Tennessee in 2008 (Kingston Fossil Plant). More than six years later, restoration efforts continue. Some estimates have the total costs of that cleanup to be in excess of $1.2 billion U.S.
So what does all this mean to Vancouver Island? Could it happen here?
The answer, of course, is yes. It could happen anywhere there are tailing ponds; and, as a byproduct of mines, there are tailing ponds on Vancouver Island.
The requests for exploratory site testing by mine companies is an ongoing issue with the various Island governances, Comox Valley Regional District included. In fact, in June, the CVRD submitted a letter to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, expressing concern over a proposed site testing by a mining company in the Woodhus Creek/Oyster River area and requested that “no coal licence be issued” to the company in question.
Consider it a proactive approach.
Some economists were undoubtedly crying foul over the decision, upset at the number of potential jobs being lost by such a request.
But it’s a far cry more economically sound than the reactive approach being incorporated in regards to the disaster in Likely, B.C.
Sometimes foresight is 20:20.