Today I set out to get samples from Polley Lake, a little lake that received so much tailing pond waste from Imperial Mines that its level was raised 1.6 meters. That works out to about 5.5 billion litres of mining waste. Polley Lake was apparently an incredible place to fish, full of trout.
As we approached the lake we were met by a road block and my ride, Lionel.
Lionel has been going in to Polley Lake every few days to check on the lake.
Despite the seriousness of the mission. It was fun to be zooming through this beautiful area on an ATV. At first Polley Lake looked like any beautiful BC lake. There was a common loon riding on its waters.
However, the Imperial Metal mine rose ominously above the water. A facility that had turned a mountain top into a slurry of waste that had escaped into this lake changing it forever in exchange for financial gain for share holders who would never see this place.
Dragon flies hovered above its surface, but I did not want to touch it... Stupidly I had forgotten my gloves. I took water samples for heavy metals.
For reasons that no one I spoke to can figure out, Imperial Mine's response to the torrent of waste that had hit this landscape like a firehose in a sandbox was to pump water out of Polley Lake into the sludge-filled Hazeltine Creek. Here you can see the pumps with hoses in the lake roaring away.
This water is pouring down the ruined Hazeltine Creek carrying more tailings into Quesnel Lake.
While Imperial Metals says the lake is dangerously high, Lionel says it is no higher now than he sees it during winter rains. Why is Imperial Mines pumping Polley lake out?
Thanks for the ride, Lionel, you are right, there is nothing like seeing a place for yourself.
Next I headed into the village of Likely, a beautiful place with people who are deeply attached to this lake and all that it holds. I attended a meeting where people are trying to figure out how to restore the place, and keep their livelihoods alive.
My input - Imperial Mines must collect their tailings and put them back. A big job? Yes, of course, but this is what they are good at - moving massive quantities of earth. Heck they took off the top of a mountain and put in the tailing pond, they can certainly collect it and put it back. Suck it up off the bottom of Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake and pump it back into the tailing pond. Put a conveyor down Hazeltine Creek bed and load the spludge on it an take it back up the mountain and this time build the berm everyone knew should have been built in the first place!
I stood with local residents and watched some of the very first sockeye to return this summer. People were happy to see them, but then their voices trailed off as they voiced fear that the fish would no longer be able to survive in this lake... nursery to 1/4 of the Fraser sockeye, one of the greatest fisheries left on earth, the bloodstream of this coast. This was only the second day that the salmon were seen entering the lake.
Then we noticed something that stopped us in our tracks. The blue film I sampled yesterday from further up the lake was here too and it was moving swiftly into the Quesnel River, which flows into the Fraser River. It was visible wherever debris collected. It appeared as a sheen acrosss the entire lake.
When you touch this film, it burns your skin like a jelly fish sting. A small crowd collected and everyone could see it. What is this? What is it doing to the Fraser River. I have received reports since the first days after the tailing pond burst that the water far downstream has different colour.
Is this chemical layer on the surface of Quesnel Lake a flocculant used to seperate mining waste? Is it from the human waste that was apparently loaded into the empty northbound mining trucks and dumped into the tailing pond? What is it and is it dangerous to life? I had a plankton net in my car and used it to collect a concentrated sample.
We need answers now and perhaps a skimmer placed across the entrance to the Quesnel River so this chemical can be skimmed off into tanks and removed. Interior Health needs to tell us what this is and what it is doing to the people and the fish. A layer of chemical on this lake is not in the public interest.
I contacted Interior Health and they sent this email. I don't know why the Ministry of Environment would keep this from the public.
As I left Likely I attended a sacred fire at the entrance to the road to Imperial Mines. The people said they were now the canary in this mine. The words hit deeply as I thought about the toxins I breathed in to get these pictures over the past few days.
Everyone needs to write to the Premier of BC and tell her this HAS to be cleaned up. All mines in BC need to understand they cannot poison the people and places where they make money. email@example.com