Bennett unveils 2 plans sparked by Mount Polley

The B.C. government is organizing two separate “actions” sparked by the massive Mount Polley tailings pond spill in early August, Bill Bennett, the province’s minister of energy and mines, said Monday.

The first is a probe into the circumstances of the disaster, to be conducted by an independent panel of three geotechnical specialists with expertise in dams, Bennett told reporters.

Panel members include Dirk Van Zyl, a professor at U.B.C.’s Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering, Norbert Morgenstern, an engineering consultant, and Steven Vick, an engineer who helped investigate the New Orleans levy failure in connection with Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The second planned action involves independent third-party dam safety inspections, based on the potential impact to the surrounding area should a dam fail, for every tailings pond at all permitted mines in the province, the minister said.

“It is a very serious incident, it is a disaster,” Bennett said, referring to Mount Polley. “People in B.C. need to know we can mine in this province safely.”

The catastrophic failure August 4 of the tailings pond wall at Imperial Metals’s (TSX:III) Mount Polley copper and gold mine near the community of Likely released 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden fine sand, contaminating several lakes, rivers and creeks in the Cariboo region.

Van Zyl described the accident as a dark day for not only B.C. but also the world and said other countries, such as Chile, are interested in and watching related developments.

“I can assure you the investigation will be thorough and rigorous,” he said, noting the probe will focus on technical matters and changes to mining that should be considered in the province.

Bennett, asked if he would resign should the investigations show negligence on the part of his ministry, said: “Everything is on the table.”