Angry, disappointed, betrayed — those are some of the words Quesnel Lake resident Doug Watt uses to described how he still feels as the five-year anniversary of the Mount Polley Mine breach approaches this weekend.
Watt lives on the lake near Cedar Point Park downstream of the Aug. 4, 2014 dam breach disaster, which released upwards of 25 million cubic metres of mine waste and water into Quesnel Lake and Quesnel River.
Watt said he was asleep that fateful morning when firefighters called and alerted him to the unfolding emergency. The campgrounds nearby were full with campers for the long weekend, and everyone was rushing to pack up and leave because of possible flooding or a log jam at the Likely bridge.
In the years since, the communities and businesses on the lake have tried to recover from the breach, which is considered one of the biggest mining disasters in Canadian history. Mount Polley Mine eventually received approval to go back to work. It also completed several years of remediation work to Hazeltine Creek and the surrounding area.
Last year, the union representing some of the workers took the company to court for not giving enough advanced notice of job layoffs, at which point the mine revealed they were under pressure because of mounting financial losses. In April 2019, the mine closed indefinitely.
Watt said the experience was and continues to be a difficult one, and disappointing.
“Generally it’s been very stressful,” he said, noting he doesn’t trust the company or government when it comes to protecting the lake.
Specifically, Watt is furious that after the breach, the mine was granted a permit to pipe wastewater into the lake in front of Hazeltine Creek in April 2017.
“You look at what this lake was before — it was pristine. They are continuing to insult us by adding their effluent.”
Watt said the company is supposed to stop discharging from the pipeline Dec. 31, 2022 once they come up with a water plan, but he said he’s seen plans that show the pipeline still discharging into the lake in 2025.
“We believe their whole plan is to never take that (pipeline) out of the lake.”
In the months and years since the breach, he said residents have seen the once-crystal clear lake waters turn cloudy periodically as it continues to flush the slurry, as well as algae blooms, and that guides say the insect hatches are not the same as they used to be on Quesnel River.
The government has deemed the lake water safe to drink, but Watt said he and his family no longer drink from it.
“We just don’t want to drink the water knowing Mount Polley’s still dumping their crap in there.”
Watt is a member of the public liaison committee that meets throughout the year with Mount Polley Mine officials who are required to provide updates and answer questions.
He is also a member of the Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake, founded by Christine McLean, who are fighting to stop the pipeline through B.C.’s Environmental Appeal Board.
To date, the mine and its parent company, Imperial Metals, have not been charged or fined in the 2014 breach, although Watt confirmed officers were in the area a few months ago asking questions relating to an investigation.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada declined to confirm with the Tribune whether charges have been forwarded.
On Saturday, Amnesty International Canada will be arriving at Mitchell Bay near Hazeltine Creek on Quesnel Lake from Vancouver Island to share solidarity messages, record interviews and be a part of an anniversary gathering hosted by McLean.
McLean will also be giving a presentation and report on the work her group has been doing, with an update on their appeal.
Meanwhile, disciplinary hearings are being scheduled for engineers Todd Martin, Stephen Rice and Laura Fidel in relation to the breach under the regulating authority, Engineers and Geoscientists BC.
Martin’s hearing is scheduled for May 4-8 and May 11-15, 2020. Dates for Rice and Fidel are to be determined.