Cleanup begins on Tulameen spill

Cleanup of silt in Collin’s Gulch began on Monday with the use of vacuum trucks.

Cleanup of silt in Collin’s Gulch began on Monday with the use of vacuum trucks.

One of the leading expert firms in North America on shoreline cleanup, Polaris Applied Science, recommended the silt that has been captured behind the temporary silt control dams, silt fences and in locations along the gulch be removed with the vacuum trucks as part of the action plan.

“I think what we really need now is assurance that this will never happen again. We got off lucky. I think the economic hit to the company with it having to shut down will help drive that home. At the same time I believe the company was pretty co-operative with everything that was asked of them after,” said Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen area H director Brad Hope.

The coal tailings spill at the Coalmont Energy mine, located 20 kilometres west of Princeton, happened on Aug. 24 when about 30 cubic metres (6,500 gallons) of coal slurry breached an emergency containment pond making its way into the Tulameen River. The following morning, Tulameen and area residents began reporting the river was black and murky. Residents were encouraged to use bottled water if their water appeared discoloured, but the RDOS was told the spill was not posing any risks to underground drinking water sources.

“I think we were very fortunate it was not a toxic release and it was as small as it was, but it sure is a heads up that we have to to be so careful,” said Hope. “I was disappointed a bit in the response time, however it is my understanding they are looking at addressing that. This was a bit of warning and we really need to be conscious.”

Polaris’ analysis of the Tulameen River identified the extent of the impacted area to be 580 metres from the confluence of Collin’s Gulch. They further identified that the sediment has already experienced significant effects from water movement and that “natural dispersion processes are active.” It is their further recommendation that the sediment is “best left to the processes of natural attenuation,” according to a press release issued by Coalmont Energy Corp.

Field analysis is continuing at numerous locations along Collin’s Gulch and the Tulameen and Similkameen Rivers collecting various water, fish, soil and habitat samples. It is expected this work will continue over the next few weeks while lab tests are being conducted and results coming back over the next few months. Environmental Impact Assessment testing and analysis will continue into the fall of 2014.

Eight orders were issued by the Chief Inspector of Mines from the Ministry of Energy and Mines including a professional engineer’s review of the water impoundment structures and an investigation study into the events leading up to the spill event. Coalmont said they began working on these items immediately and provided the Chief Inspector with reports and various other required documents. The Ministry staff will be conducting  a site visit this week.

Coalmont Energy Corp. said in a press release that they hope to receive approval for re-start of operations this week and once that approval is received they will be able to finalize the requirements for the resumption of full mine operations.