FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 24, 2015
Chris Zimmer, Rivers Without Borders
RED CHRIS MINE GETS PERMIT DESPITE RECOMMENDATION AGAINST TAILINGS TECHNOLOGY USED
B.C. Commitment To Mount Polley Report Mining Reforms In Doubt
The British Columbia (B.C.) government’s decision to grant Imperial Metals an interim permit for the tailings facility at the Red Chris mine only three days after an independent review panel of the Mount Polley dam failure specifically recommended against this type of tailings technology is raising doubts about the provincial government’s commitment to implement all the mining reforms in the Mount Polley panel report. The Red Chris facility is similar to the one that failed at the Mount Polley mine in August, releasing almost 25 million cubic meters (6.6 billion gallons) of mine waste water and tailings into the Fraser River watershed.
“B.C. appears to be rushing Red Chris, which contradicts its own promises to implement all the recommendations of the Mount Polley expert panel,” said Chris Zimmer, Alaska Campaign Director for Rivers Without Borders. “It is reckless for B.C. to permit the kind of outdated watered tailings facility at Red Chris that failed at Mount Polley and that the panel specifically recommends against. The panel called Mount Polley a ‘loaded gun’ and B.C. has just loaded a round into the chamber at Red Chris.”
The Panel concluded “Mount Polley has shown the intrinsic hazards associated with dual-purpose impoundments storing both water and tailings.” It rejected “any notion that business as usual can continue” in B.C., noting that, without major changes, “on average there will be two [tailings dam] failures every 10 years and six every 30.” The Panel said B.C. is using outdated technology and recommended dry stack or similar Best Available Technologies for new tailings facilities, stating the cost of better technologies should not override safety.
B.C. Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett said, “What we learn from this incident and how we respond to ensure it never happens again is profoundly important to British Columbia and to the mining industry…We will implement all of these recommendations…”
“Downstream salmon fisheries in Alaska could be ruined by a dam failure at B.C. mines proposed in the Taku, Stikine and Unuk watersheds,” said Zimmer. “The Panel recommendations should be fully and immediately applied at mines such as Red Chris, KSM and Tulsequah Chief. The Panel meant its recommendations to be implemented as a package, not a list to pick and choose from based on the cheapest options.”
Despite the Minister’s promise, on February 2, 2015, just one business day after the issuance of the panel’s report, the B.C. government gave the Red Chris mine – owned by Imperial Metals, the same company that owns Mount Polley – an interim permit to begin filling and “testing” its watered tailings facility in the headwaters of the Iskut River, the major tributary to the Stikine, one of the most important salmon producing systems in the transboundary region.
“B.C. ignored the fundamental recommendation from the Mount Polley panel report in issuing this permit for Red Chris,” said Zimmer. “Here was a test of B.C.’s commitment to the Mount Polley panel recommendations and it failed. People on both sides of the border will be closely watching to see if B.C. backs up its promises with real actions and real reform.”
An independent expert review of the Red Chris watered tailings impoundment design and construction found numerous concerns similar to those that have been raised about Mount Polley, including similar soil conditions and dam design. These experts also said, “any failure of the Red Chris impoundment will have a much more significant environmental impact than the Mount Polley failure.” No major modifications have been made to the design.
“The similarities between Mount Polley and Red Chris are worrisome. Even worse, experts say a dam failure at Red Chris would be much worse than the Mount Polley disaster,” said Zimmer. “It defies common sense that B.C. issued a permit for Red Chris right after the Mount Polley report recommended against that type of tailings facility.”
In an apparent attempt to relieve Alaskan concerns, Bennett stated that Alaskans “do not have the kind of information and understanding of how we do things here in British Columbia that they need to have.” He is now proposing a symposium in Southeast Alaska to discuss mining practices and explain B.C.’s “rigorous” mine permitting process.
“If B.C.’s process is so rigorous, how did a dam permitted by B.C. to last essentially forever fail in less than 20 years? Why has the Tulsequah Chief been polluting the Taku watershed for over 50 years? Instead of insulting Alaskans by telling us we don’t know what’s going on, Bennett should immediately fully implement the Mount Polley report recommendations, clean up the Tulsequah Chief, and support a mechanism like the International Joint Commission that would be far more effective in resolving this issue than a one-day conference,” said Zimmer.