A British Columbia First Nation plans to issue an eviction notice to Imperial Metals Corp. – the company behind a massive tailings pond breach at a gold and copper mine last week – over a separate project in the band’s territory.
The declaration from the Neskonlith Indian Band is the latest sign that last week’s tailings spill at the Mount Polley Mine in central B.C. could ripple across the company’s other projects and possibly the province’s entire mining industry.
The Neskonlith band said the notice, which its chief planned to hand-deliver to Imperial Metals in Vancouver on Thursday, orders the company to stay away from the site of its proposed Ruddock Creek zinc and lead mine, which is located about 150 kilometres northeast of Kamloops.
The mine, which is still in the development phase and has yet to go through the environmental assessment process, would be located near the headwaters of the Adams River, home of an important sockeye salmon run. The Neskonlith band opposed the mine long before the Mount Polley tailings spill.
“We do not want the mine developing or operating in that sacred headwaters,” Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson said in an interview Wednesday.
“Our elders have stated very clearly that they do not want anything poisoning our water or our salmon.”
An earthen tailings dam at the Mount Polley Mine failed on Monday of last week, releasing millions of cubic metres of water and mine tailings into surrounding lakes, rivers and creeks.
Water quality tests have come back within drinking water guidelines and provincial health officials insist the spill won’t adversely affect fish, but local First Nations leaders remain unconvinced.
Wilson said the Mount Polley spill shows the company cannot be trusted to build and operate a mine while also protecting the surrounding environment.
“The industry has proven at Mount Polley that they can’t regulate all of that,” she said.
Wilson said Neskonlith band councillors planned to consult elders and members of their community about how to enforce the eviction, but she said it would likely involve blockades if the company doesn’t comply.
A spokesperson for Imperial Metals wasn’t immediately available to comment.
The Mount Polley spill is also overshadowing another Imperial Metals project, the Red Chris gold and copper mine in northwestern B.C.
Last week, a group of members of the Tahltan First Nation called the Klabona Keepers announced plans to blockade the Red Chris site in response to the Mount Polley spill.
It’s not clear what impact the blockade has had on the mine, which is currently under construction and nearing completion.
The Tahltan Central Council issued a statement last Friday, saying the council doesn’t endorse the blockade but wants to listen to the group’s concerns.
The company has been discussing a potential benefit agreement with the Tahltan, but Chad Day, president of the central council, has said the Mount Polley spill raises “new questions and concerns” that Imperial Metals must now address.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said there’s no question the Mount Polley spill will make it more difficult for mining companies to earn the support of First Nations.
“I think the Mount Polley disaster will have a profound impact on the mining industry throughout the entire province,” said Phillip, who said the province, the federal government and the mining industry all share in the blame.
“The Mount Polley disaster is being viewed as a consequence of what happens when you simply abrogate your responsibilities.”