A First Nations band is threatening to try and shut down work at Copper Mountain Mine unless its concerns about last week’s tailings spill are addressed.
“The Lower Similkameen Indian Band Chief and council are considering legal and direct action after a mine tailings spill at Copper Mountain Mine on Wednesday, December 10,” a release obtained by the Spotlight Monday evening said.
In an interview with the Spotlight Chief Keith Crow said the band may decide this week to seek a court injunction closing the mine, and a meeting with band lawyers was scheduled for Tuesday. “It really depends on the stance of the mine,” said Crow. “If they are willing to work with us and answer our questions we won’t have to…We are prepared to go the distance.”
Copper Mountain Mine officials were unavailable Monday night to respond to Crow’s comments.
In a press release issued Friday Copper Mountain released a statement confirming a slurry discharge box at the mill plugged and overflowed, and approximately 500 tonnes of slurry discharged past a primary and secondary containment. The slurry made its way into a treed raven approximately 700 meters from Wolfe Creek and some reached the creek’s upper portion.
The spill was contained within 20 minutes, and operations at the mine were temporarily suspended, the release said.
Don Strickland, vice-president of operations, was quoted as saying “It was an unfortunate incident and both the primary and secondary containment systems were breached…the mine operating crews responded quickly to minimize the situation. The safety emergency response and preparedness plan was effectively utilized to manage the event.”
The spill was first reported to the media by Interior Health, which issued a public advisory Wednesday afternoon and a Do Not Use order for water from Wolfe Creek immediately down stream from Copper Mountain. Residents were instructed to not drink or use the water for bathing or recreation.
Dale Kronebusch, emergency services supervisor for the Regional District Okanagon Similkameen, said six properties and probably four land owners/users would have been directly affected by the health warning.
According to Crow there are too many unanswered questions about water safety and the effect of mining on the Similkameen River. He said there is concern for fishing, hunting and ranching along the Similkameen.
“ It might not be the Mount Polley spill but there is still a spill and there still is an environmental impact there,” Crow told the Spotlight.
In his release Crow stated: “The Similkameen River system is the life and heart of the Similkameen people. “We have used these areas for traditional purposes and depended on the clean water and grasslands for generations. Government and companies can’t just keep silent when are allowing our lands and waters to be damaged and our people’s health to suffer.”
The First Nation’s Chief told the Spotlight the band is also concerned with the possible cumulative effect of contaminants in the water system, citing the 2013 Basin Coal mine spill that injected 65,000 litres of coal slurry wasted into the Tulameen River. He said the Lower Similkameen Council is calling for an independent inquiry to determine the cause of the Copper Mountain spill, as well as an environmental review of both the Coalmont and the Wolfe Creek spills, and a review of plans for clean up and restoration.
According to the Copper Mountain release water samples taken shortly after the spill have show all water leaving the property met drinking water guidelines and the more stringent Fresh Water Aquatic Life Guidelines, except for total suspended solids which were slightly elevated. Daily water samples continue to be taken.
Crow acknowledged a court injunction and possible mine shutdown would have an economic impact on the community. “Yes. I have workers there as well. Fourteen of my band members work there. I hate to say it but, economic impact or no, if we have no river we have nothing. If our river is gone and it’s polluted, what’s left in the valley? We are the stewards of the land and we have to take care of it.”