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Updated: Wed, 06 Aug 2014 18:18:54 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Mount Polley mine tailings pond breach: Local state of emergency declared



A aerial view shows the damage caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C. Tuesday, August, 5, 2014. The pond which stores mining waste from the Mount Polley Mine had its dam break on Monday spilling its contents into Hazeltine Creek, Polley Lake, and Quesnel Lake, causing a wide water-use ban in the area. Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

A aerial view shows the damage caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C. Tuesday, August, 5, 2014. The pond which stores mining waste from the Mount Polley Mine had its dam break on Monday spilling its contents into Hazeltine Creek, Polley Lake, and Quesnel Lake, causing a wide water-use ban in the area. Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

A local state of emergency has been declared in an area where a B.C. tailings pond wall collapsed, sending millions of cubic metres of mine waste water and metals-laden sand into local waterways.

- MORE | Mount Polley mine tailings pond breach followed years of government warnings

- RAW VIDEO | View from a helicopter over the tailings breach zone

- PHOTOS | 'The devastation up the lake is unbelievable'

The Cariboo Regional District (CRD) made the declaration roughly 48 hours after the Mount Polley mine's tailings pond wall gave way.

The B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines will be updating the media at 3 p.m. PT  in Williams Lake, B.C.. You can follow it as it happens in our live blog below:

On mobile? Click here to follow our live blog of Wednesday's news conference

The breach sent 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden sand out into local waterways, scouring away the banks of Hazeltine Creek and sending debris flowing into Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake, which rose 1.5 metres.

In a post on its emergency operations department's Facebook page, the CRD said the local state of emergency status would help it "access additional capacity that may be necessary to further protect the private property and government infrastructure in the town of Likely."

Brian Kynoch, president of the mine's owner, Imperial Metals, told CBC News on Wednesday morning that water was still flowing from the pond, despite the fact that it's virtually empty.

Work crews were out all night trying to close the dam and secure the debris flow areas, he said.

Kynoch said he expected Imperial Metals would brief provincial officials at 1 p.m. PT Wednesday, and may have more information to release then.

[MEDIA]

Questions over water quality

The exact composition of the pond water released into the environment is not known, but water samples collected by staff from B.C.'s Environment Ministry have been sent for analysis.

In the meantime, a drinking water and water-use ban remains in place on all consumption or recreational use of the Quesnel and Cariboo river systems from the spill site to the Fraser River, several hundred kilometres away.

At a community meeting in Likely, B.C., on Tuesday, Kynoch said the water from the copper and gold mine's tailings pond was "very close to drinking water quality," though the silt, the "ground-up rock" left over after extracting the metals, poses a problem.

- MORE | Mount Polley Mine tailings water 'very close' to drinking quality, company says

- IN DEPTH | Tailings ponds: What's in them and what risks do they pose?

A summary of the material dumped into the tailings pond last year was filed with Environment Canada. It said there was 326 tonnes of nickel, over 400,000 kilograms of arsenic, 177,000 kilograms of lead and 18,400 tonnes of copper and its compounds placed in the pond last year.

"Specifically, mercury has never been detected in our water and arsenic levels are about one-fifth of drinking water quality," Kynoch told roughly 200 people at the meeting. "We regularly perform toxicity tests and we know this water is not toxic to rainbow trout."

Kynoch also apologized to the local residents and business operators.

"I apologize for what happened," Kynoch said at the emotionally charged meeting. "If you had asked me two weeks ago if that could happen, I would have said it couldn't happen, so I know that for our company it's going to take a long time to earn the community's trust back."

A logging company crew was able to tow a log jam away from the Quesnel River, averting potential flooding or damage to a bridge in Likely, but residents were frustrated with the lack of information in the hours and days after the breach.

Residents react, criticize communications

Diane Gibson, owner of the post office and restaurant on the Likely riverfront, said she heard nothing until she went to nearby Williams Lake and overheard the news in a store.

Alfred Hillary, a business owner who lives just below the mine, said their phones were out and he didn't receive a phone call. He heard about the breach over his emergency responder radio.

Hillary blamed the mine for failing to address earlier problems, but in the small community devastated by the downturn in the local forest industry, many residents were prepared to stand by the company.

"This town relies upon Mount Polley, so we're hurting," Gibson said. "I, personally, don't blame Mount Polley. There's lots of people who will point fingers. It is unnecessary to point fingers until we're in full view of the facts.

"Needless to say, it's going to hurt us regardless of whose fault it is."

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