The rights of the public to the natural resources outweigh private rights, and must be given its first consideration – the “conservation” president, Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909).
When the Polley Lake Dam near Likely, B.C. ruptured last month – after leaking earlier – it became clear the rights of industry to extract natural resources outweighs those of the public to the diverse benefits of a wild environment.
In the case of First Nations, it outweighs cultural identity and livelihood. The 10 billion litres of pond water that destroyed Hazeltine Creek, and 4.5 million cubic meters of sand laced with cadmium, manganese, phosphorous and mercury are proof.
Mines minister Bill Bennett smudged his face in a grieving ceremony with First Nations and declared he’d never have believed the breech possible.
But private consultants earlier warned that building the dam up instead of out was dangerous.
Brian Kynoch, CEO for Imperial Metals, apologized while claiming the pond water was nearly potable.
Yet, nearby communities were told not to drink from their streams, and health authorities promised it was safe to eat the flesh of fish, but not their gonads.
There’s an independent panel (all mining experts) to root out the cause of the dam’s failure, and suggest ways to prevent ruptures at other mines, things we already know.
“Why would you put a tailings pond – wet pond method –above a watershed in the first place,” asks Geoff Clayton of ARMS.
Clayton points to a year 2000 geological abstract by Michael Davies and Stephen Rice (AMEC Earth and Environmental, Vancouver). It confirms the instability of tailing ponds –two to five major incidents per year and 3,500 world-wide – compared to Hydro dams, which, unlike tailing ponds, are monitored 24-7.
“They have a requirement of a 1-10,000 year risk of rupture engineered into their design.”
In a letter to MLA Doug Bing, Clayton notes two standards for dam safety – one that falls under the Ministry of Lands, Forests and Natural Resources (Hydro dams such as the Alouette) and another for the environment (Polley Lake).
The reason, he says, is obvious.
“Because we have a valley floor with lots of people. The head count around Polley is small. Wildlife seem to be expendable. Nobody knows this.”
Putting tailings in stacks away from water is a modern process used in other parts of the world to avoid disasters. Rice and Davies say, “tailings in dry stacks can’t leach into the environment and withstand catastrophic forces.”
That includes earthquakes, like the one that shook California last week, and the one we expect soon.
Hazeltine is now a tailings pond sluice that feeds into Quesnel Lake, which feeds into the Quesnel River, which feeds into the Fraser which feeds into Georgia Strait.
Quesnel Lake, home to 30-pound trout, draws sport fishermen from around the world. Guides and lodge owners worry about its future.
“I’ve been to hell,” said Morton. “It’s hard to be here and not hate humanity. This was inevitable. Everyone knew it would happen.”
The Cariboo I know was a paradise. As a 12-year-old, I caught three-pound trout in crystal-clear streams and lost all track of time.
Years later, I paddled the Bowron Lakes – not far from Likely – and ran the frisky Cariboo River, which will be poisoned when the rains come.
You can listen to the haunting calls of loons and wolves at night in this magical place,
Aboriginal folk have always tried to help the rest of us understand, and accept their reverence of nature as our guides prior to development.
“They’re trying to draw us back to old values. It’s time to listen and change,” Clayton said.
“The rights of the majority demand that friends of the environment lead panels stacked with industry and government … because the natural world belongs to the public in common, not to a few transient politicians and corporations.”