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Ministry slams Imperial Metals with several clean-up conditions

The Ministry of Environment has ordered that Imperial Metals Ltd. must immediately stop the flow of wastewater from its breached Mount Polley dam, as well as meet several other clean-up obligations, in the wake of a disaster that saw toxic sediment spilled into local watersheds in the B.C. Interior.

Ministry spokesperson Jennifer McGuire said in a teleconference that the company is required to submit a preliminary environmental impact assessment report of the spill, which occurred early Monday morning, by the end of today.

The company must also submit a more comprehensive assessment report examining more long-term environmental impacts, such as fish habitat and water quality and sediments. The deadline for the first portion of the report is Aug. 15, and a summary report is due at the end of September.

All of the reports will be posted on the ministry website after a review with Imperial Metals.

Failure to comply with the terms could result in fines up to $300,000 and six months in jail for each violation, McGuire said.

A regional drinking water ban has been in force since Monday following the catastrophic breach at the mining site near Likely, B.C., where an estimated 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of fine sand was released into Polley Lake.

The Cariboo Regional District declared a local state of emergency on Wednesday morning.

The first results from water samples are expected Thursday, said Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett. He also said that water testing will continue daily.

What caused the dam to breach is still unknown. According to Bennett, the tailings sand "backed up into the mouth of Polley Lake and stayed there and essentially formed a little dam of itself, it's about a metre and a half thick."

Imperial Metals is pumping water from Polley Lake into an empty pit on the mine site to reduce rising water levels caused by the dam in the lake, he said.

Bennett maintained that the ministry won't know exactly what's in the water until the samples come back.

"We will learn lessons from this and we will apply those lessons to other mines in this province," Bennett said. "There's no question that even though this is unexpected and unprecedented, it has happened once and we just have to make sure it doesn't happen again."

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak has not yet commented on the breach. When The Tyee contacted Polak's office on Wednesday morning, her communications department said they did not know when or if the minister would comment.

According to today's teleconference, Polak is expected to arrive in Likely tomorrow.

Emily Fister is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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