LIKELY, British Columbia — Taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for cleaning up a massive spill from a mine tailings pond in B.C., the federal industry minister said Thursday as residents in a remote resource community awaited the results of water quality testing.
A dam holding back the tailings pond at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley Mine in central B.C. burst open Monday, releasing about 353 million cubic feet of water and about 158 million cubic feet of potentially toxic silt into adjacent lakes, rivers and creeks.
Government officials have acknowledged they still don’t know what exactly leaked out, though tests on the water expected Thursday may provide at least some answers about the possible impact of the spill.
Federal environment and fisheries officials have so far deferred comment to the provincial government, which is leading the investigation and response, though Industry Minister James Moore became the first federal cabinet minister to weigh into the disaster during an unrelated event in Montreal.
“Those who are responsible for this should pay for this,” Moore said. “This should not be the responsibility of taxpayers.”
The provincial Environment Ministry has ordered Imperial Metals Corp. to immediately take action to prevent additional water and silt from leaking out of the tailings pond, account for what was in the tailings and provide a plan to clean it up. The ministry has said the company could face fines or even jail time if it fails to comply.
The province says Imperial Metals met a Wednesday deadline to provide a plan to stop continued pollution and for a preliminary environmental assessment and cleanup, though the documents have not been released publicly. Additional deadlines are set for next week.
Moore said mining is an important industry for B.C. and Canada, but he said resource companies must be run responsibly when it comes to protecting the environment.
B.C.’s mines minister Bill Bennett has been the provincial government’s lead spokesman on the Mount Polley file. Premier Christy Clark planned to visit the town of Likely, which is located near the mine site about 600 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, on Thursday.
The company has apologized for the spill, though it has also suggested the water and silt that escaped from the tailings pond is safe. Company president Brian Kynoch said the tailings pond water is almost drinkable, while he described the solids as “relatively benign.”
Residents in the region have been under a water ban since Monday.