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Bill for frozen pipes, water main repairs: $10M
Aldo Santin, Winnipeg Free Press September 11, 2014
The frozen pipes disaster earlier this year cost taxpayers $4 million.
More Halifax council oversight for water utility to get more study
Brett Bundale, Halifax City Hall, The Chronicle Herald September 9, 2014
Regional council has referred a report on Halifax Water governance to the executive committee for further study.
The report includes recommendations that would give council the option of having greater oversight of the utility but keep day-to-day operations at arm’s-length.
Specific areas that council would have control over include approving compensation over $250,000, debt policy and guarantees, new lines of business and service areas, and annual business plans.
Other changes would see competency requirements ushered in for appointments to the utility’s board of directors.
The report said council should look to recent legislation for the Halifax Convention Centre as a model for an independent board with external approval and direction required for certain issues.
“Moving to this model for (Halifax Water) would give council, as the shareholder, some authority over (the utility),” the report said.
Halifax Water “would be accountable to taxpayers through council,” it said.
“Filing strategic plans and annual business plans provides a mechanism for improved operational alignment while maintaining a separate utility.”
Halifax Water’s rates and other issues are already overseen by the provincial regulator, the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.
The report received mixed reviews from councillors, with some calling its recommendations unnecessary, while others wanted more information.
However, councillors appeared unanimous in calling for the public utility’s board meetings to be open to the public, with agendas posted online.
Applications to participate in hearing about lake levels available
Staff Writer, Winnipeg Free Press September 8, 2014
Manitoba’s Clean Environment Commission is looking for participants for its upcoming hearing into Manitoba Hydro’s control of the water level on Lake Winnipeg.
Little impact was expected from Mount Polley dam collapse: failure ranking: Imperial Metals’ mine tailings dam subjected to ‘dam safety review’ only once every 10 years
Gordon Hoekstra, Vancouver Sun September 7, 2014
Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley tailings dam was rated one of the least likely in B.C. to adversely effect the environment, harm people or destroy roads or structures if it failed.
As a result it was subject to fewer outside inspections.
Safety rankings used by the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines are based on the “consequence of failure” of an earthen dam that stores mine waste and rely on guidelines created by the Canadian Dam Association.
The five rankings are extreme, very high, high, significant and low.
The Mount Polley mine dam in central B.C. was ranked significant, which means it was only subject to a “critical” dam safety review every 10 years by an independent engineer.
Tailings dams with extreme or very high rankings — such as the nearby Gibraltar mine or Imperial Metals’ soon-to-open Red Chris mine in northern B.C. — are meant to get dam safety reviews every five years.
Mount Polley’s ranking meant that if the dam failed there would be no significant loss of fish or wildlife habitat, and that it would only effect marginal habitat where restoration or compensation in kind is highly possible, according to the Canadian Dam Association guidelines.
First Nations, local residents and environmental groups have called the dam’s collapse on Aug. 4 an environmental disaster, although Imperial Metals and the B.C. government have downplayed its effects, saying the water in the tailings storage facility was near drinking-water quality.
The dam collapse released more than 24 million cubic metres of water and mine tailings containing potentially-toxic metals.
The rush of water and tailings scoured Hazeltine Creek and cut a wide channel, carrying tonnes of debris, including trees into Quesnel Lake. The creek was home to spawning coho salmon and rainbow trout. Samples of tailings have shown low but “potentially significant” arsenic and selenium concentration that will need monitoring, the environment ministry has said.
“Given the outcome, this dam should have been receiving a dam safety review more than once every 10 years,” said Calvin Sanborn, legal director of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, which has called for mining law reform.
Imperial Metals did not respond to a request for comment.
In a written statement, Mines Ministry spokesman Ryan Shotton said engineers base the failure rating on not just where the water and tailings will go, but what is in it.
“These are non-acid tailings and (the) water is non-acidic,” said Shotton.
The mines ministry declined to release the most recent dam safety review for Mount Polley from 2006 while a provincial investigation into the incident is underway. The next dam safety review was scheduled for 2016.
Senior officials with the mines ministry said dam safety reviews are “critical” because they are conducted by an engineer hired by the company other than the engineer responsible for the dam.
The review is typically more detailed than an annual inspection carried out by the company, examines the original design, and determines whether more stability analysis is needed, said mines ministry officials.
The province pointed out that Mount Polley has also had nine geotechnical inspections by government inspectors since it was reopened in 2005.
During the dam safety review, the dam’s consequence-of-failure rating is examined to determine if it needs to be changed.
AMEC, the engineering firm that carried out the 2006 dam safety review, said Mount Polley retained its significant rating based on Ontario and British Columbia dam safety guidelines, which take into account the potential loss of fish or wildlife habitat, as well as other factors such as potential loss of human life and commercial infrastructure damage. At the time, Knight Piesold was the engineer of record.
“Based on our assessment of all these factors, taken in aggregate, it was our opinion the classification of the Mount Polley dam fit appropriately with the classification options available to us using these guidelines,” AMEC spokeswoman Lauren Gallagher said in a written statement.
The dam safety guidelines note, however, the failure rating should be determined by the highest potential consequences, whether loss of life or environmental, cultural or economic losses, and not an aggregate finding.
The province’s chief inspector of mines has ordered that annual dam safety inspections be submitted three months earlier by Dec. 1, and as part of this process, the dam consequence classification must be reviewed.
While tests continue to show that water in Quesnel Lake meets drinking-water guidelines, local resident have been warned not to drink cloudy water.
Several test results of the sediments within the tailings storage facility and outside of it have shown low but potentially significant arsenic and selenium concentration, the province has said.
Consequence of failure rating for operating mines in British Columbia:
• Highland Valley Copper (Teck): Extreme
• Gibraltar (Taseko): Extreme
• Copper Mountain: Very High
• New Afton (NewGold): Very High
• Huckleberry (Imperial Metals-Japan Group): Very High
• Red Chris (Imperial Metals): Very High — slated to open this fall
• Bralorne: High
• Myra Falls (Nyrstar): High
• Mount Milligan (Thompson Creek Metals): High
• Endako (Thompson Creek Metals-Sojitz): High
• Mount Polley (Imperial Metals): Significant
• QR (Barkerville Gold Mines): Significant
Source: BC Ministry of Energy and Mines
Mount Polley mine breach: In the absence of facts, fear takes hold
Dene Moore, The Canadian Press September 8, 2014
Some residents of the small British Columbia community of Likely, downstream from a mine breach say they don't trust that the provincial government is dealing with the disaster.
More than a month after the failure of the tailings pond at the Mount Polley mine northeast of Williams Lake cottage owner Carla Zanotto said area residents aren't getting any answers.
"I choose not to believe the government because I don't think that Imperial (Metals) is doing any cleanup. They're doing nothing," Zanotto said Monday.
The breach released 17 million cubic metres of water and more than seven million cubic metres of slurry — much more than the original estimate when the spill occurred Aug. 4.
She said the clean up so far seems to involve pumping the slurry — the ground rock particle left over after metals are removed — from Polley Lake near the mine downstream into much larger Quesnel Lake.
She has a three-year-old and six-year-old and they draw their drinking water at the cottage from Quesnel Lake. The potentially toxic slurry should be removed from the watershed altogether, she said.
She's emailed the federal minister, B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett and to her local Cariboo North MLA looking for more information.
"All of the emails I receive back in response are basically just to pacify me, and to tell me that they're monitoring," Zanotto said. "Monitoring is not enough."
Company officials were not immediately available to comment.
Test results last week showed levels of copper, iron, manganese, arsenic, silver, selenium and vanadium in excess of provincial standards near the spill site but the ministry said similar testing last spring also found concentrations above guidelines.
Testing continues but in the absence of information, fear has flourished.
Zanotto was at a news conference in Vancouver held by opponents of the mine, who demanded an immediate moratorium on mining.
They released a report containing allegations about everything from health effects to the company's economic activities.
"The specific long-term outcomes of this disaster are not known as it is the largest tailings storage facility dam break this world has seen," it said. "We do know though, that a spike in cancer rates is guaranteed."
A volunteer "legal advisor" said a class-action lawsuit is in the works.
There were no representatives from the two area First Nations bands, but Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said if First Nations cannot rely on the federal and provincial governments, they will set up their own indigenous laws and institutions "to protect the integrity of the environment."
"It will mean industry will not be welcome in our territories with respect to large resource development projects and for good reason. Governments have completely sold out the environmental values of this province to industry," Phillip said.
Environment Minister Mary Polak declined an interview request.
In an emailed statement, she said her ministry wants the company to commence restoration as soon as possible.
"We will continue to share all test results as well as restoration plans with the public on our dedicated Mount Polley website, but I must caution that full clean-up will likely be measured in years not months," it said.
"We recognize that this event has impacted communities and First Nations in a very dramatic way, and everyone is trying to do their best to provide to the community what will help them get through this."
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