Today I went to see the Mt Polley mining disaster for myself. First Nations that I have worked with sampling for European farm salmon viruses called me. I don't know anything about the mine tailings that exploded out of the Mt Polley tailings pond on August 4th, but I know evasive government behaviour when I see it. Frankly, I don't believe that this massive injection of mine tailings into pristine Quesnel Lake is not dangerous to life.
My objective with this trip was to take samples of the water and sediment and I wanted to meet the people caught by this. Yesterday I went out on Quesnel Lake where 1/4 of this years Fraser sockeye are expected to return. Chris Blake of Williams Lake was our guide. She has fought for the natural world of this area for decades and knows the people and the place well.
Kim Goforth, a longtime resident on the shores of Quesnel Lake generously took us out in his boat.
There were piles of the smashed forest torn out by the explosive torrent of mining waste that came down Hazeltine Creek on the beach where we met the boat between Hazeltine and Horsefly.
As we approached Hazeltine Creek where the tailings had pushed into the lake there was a log boom, trying to contain the massive amount of wood. There were no signs on the boom.
This is my first view of Hazeltine Creek. On August 3, 2014 this was a tiny creek, meandering through the forest. First Nations once chose to make this place a village site for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Now the forest had been replaced by a wide expanse of grey dust.
Kim Goforth, told us that when the mine waste water hit Quesnel Lake it produced a wave recorded 8 km away at the Quesnel hydro monitoring station in Likely. Here is the data on that.
Julia Banks, Natural Resources Coordinator, with the Soda Creek First Nation told us First Nations were not notified that this had happened to their territory.
There was no communication from Imperial Mines, or government that millions of mining waste had ripped through their territory and polluted Quesnel and Polley Lakes.
The mine is a guest in this territory and yet they did not think to inform their host that one of the biggest mining disasters in history had just taken place on top of an old village site, affecting their most significant food resource.
Kevin Logan was part of the crew, also wanting to see this first hand.
The first thing we did was try to get a sample of mining waste sediment off the bottom of the lake using a special device that snaps shut when it hits bottom. Kim watched his sounder and when we saw the bottom of the lake rise steeply - we dropped the grabber.
When the grabber hit bottom there was an explosion of fine particles, the jaws snapped shut, I pulled it up and had a sample from the bottom of Quesnel Lake. I scooped the sediment into a sterile jar.
Next I took water samples in sterile conainers with premeasured fixative.
To fully understand what is going on in this lake, will require far more than a few samples, but these will give a snap shot of the situation and help First Nations downriver chart their next steps.
When we landed on the beach and Jake the dog was first ashore. We walked the small dirt road through the Raft Creek campsite, towards Hazeltine Creek. There were no signs.
I entered a place that felt like hell. You did not want to touch anything, breath, or sit down. This place had once been so inviting it had been chosen as home to First Nations long ago. It was so sweet and lovely that there were picnic tables nearby, berries were ripe and a few flowers still blooming, but everything about the place had changed. The land was grey and cracking, and the leaves on the trees were grey. It hurt to know I was a member of the species that had done this, created a wasteland, that I believe to be toxic, where life was once diverse and generous.
It was a cauldren of grey thick liquid running through mining tailings. The unimaginable force of the billions of litres of mining waste had scoured the stream bank down over 10 meters down in some places.
What are these strange new landscapes? Pock-marked, caked substrate looked like bubbles had burst as it was drying. There were burnt-looking formations that bore no resemblance to anything I have seen, formed as the tailing waste reacted to oxygen.
What made this burn mark in the middle of the drying sludge wasteland?
What was the most painful to see were the animal tracks, and there were a lot of them. What did these creatures think as they stepped into the present wasteland after generations of sweet, lush forest?
Sandhill Crane ?
Here you can see an animal walked down to the mining sluice and apparently walked into the liquid. There are no return tracks, so it must have walked up or downstream becoming soaked in it.
Archeologist Adam Kantakis stands below a dropoff. He will be assessing the damage to the archeological record at this site for the Williams Lake band.
A government that lets this happen despite the clear warnings, is a government that does not care about the people who elected them and pay their salaries. Our society is sick with an addiction to money and in places and times like this it shows. Are we really so unintelligent that this is the only way we can do business? Imperial Mines really does not know how to build a berm designed to hold water? It seems clear that it is well-known that earthen berms are not meant to hold water. But this company can't do business using engineering solutions that would have protected people and the land? This was a place that made food, that people sought out to nourish their souls. This is not a wise use of the resources of the this province. This is not, at all, a smart way to do business. This is sloppy, foolish, wasteful, and downright meanspirited towards the children of all species. Creating hell on earth is immoral.
Wake up BC and make sure government hears from you that this is not acceptable. This is exactly the same collosal stupidity I have fought for 25 years to protect wild salmon from farm salmon disease. Government knows the risk of allowing viruses to spread from feedlots, but they don't do anything about it. Well, this kind of government behaviour has to stop because we need our planet intact. We need a functional living world to survive. This kind of pillaging economy cannot be allowed to be the monster that denies the right to life on earth. This is not a true and sustainable economy.
As we drove away we stopped at the Horsefly River. Clear, clean, wholesome. All the salmon that come to this place will have swum past the waste on the sea floor that I sampled. They will have swum through the plume of mine tailings still pouring 13 days later into Quesnel Lake. No one knows what will happen to them and everyone and everything that needs them. Imperial Mines has risked so much just to make more money.
P.S. to the CEO and owner of Grieg Seafood - don't think for one minute that I am distracted from finding out why the salmon you put into the Concepcion Point farm are dying.