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British Columbia Rain could trigger further tailings pond discharges at Mount Polley

Contents from a tailings pond is pictured flowing down Hazeltine Creek and into Quesnel Lake in central B.C. on Aug. 5, 2014.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

The Mount Polley mine was out of compliance during an inspection last week, and the province says it is concerned rain could trigger the further discharge of mining waste into central B.C. waterways.

The tailings pond at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine breached on Aug. 4, sending millions of cubic metres of waste into the water. The spill prompted days of water-use bans for hundreds of people and the province has said it could have adverse effects on marine life.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Environment sent a non-compliance advisory letter to the mine that said "more action could be taken to provide a greater degree of environmental protection in a more timely manner."

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The letter said the mine was still discharging effluent into Hazeltine Creek during last week's visit, though the flow has since stopped.

The ministry has ordered the mine to take prompt action to prevent any further discharge, such as the installation of sediment control systems. It said the mine should also ensure "abatement capacity is designed and built to handle a 1 in 10 year 24 hour rainfall event."

Steve Robertson, a spokesman for Imperial Metals Corporation, which owns the mine, said the company is working as fast as it can. He said it cannot physically get more trucks into the work area.

"We disagree with the ministry's view that we're not working quickly enough," he said in an interview.

Mr. Robertson said there has been rain since last week's inspection, and it did not result in further discharge. He said the company has already taken steps to mitigate the effect of the rain by doubling its pumping capacity.

He expressed confusion over the ministry's letter, saying he wasn't entirely sure of its purpose.

The province – which critics have said responded too slowly to the spill – said the letter is the first step of an escalating enforcement response to a violation of the Environmental Management Act. It said the letter will be taken into account in the event of future non-compliance at Mount Polley.

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The province previously announced an independent investigation into the spill, and ordered outside inspections at every other B.C. tailings pond.

Meanwhile, crews were cleaning up Tuesday after an unrelated spill at the New Afton mine, which is owned by New Gold Incorporated.

Julie Taylor, a New Gold spokeswoman, said about 16 cubic metres of effluent were released into a ditch after a valve on a pipe carrying material to a tailings pond leaked.

The material that was released was fully contained on site, Ms. Taylor said.

With a report from Wendy Stueck

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