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Lawna Bourassa-Keuster holds up a jar of water filled waste from the Mount Polley mine tailings pound on Sept. 8.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Neither Imperial Metals nor the provincial government is moving quickly enough to clean up a mess left by a tailings dam breach that sent millions of cubic metres of mine waste rushing into nearby lakes and streams, according to some people who live near the site of the spill.

And cleanup and mitigation – not reopening the mine – should be the top priority for the company and regulators, said one resident who spoke at a Monday news conference held to highlight area residents' concerns.

"Clean it up first and then talk to us [about getting it open again]," said Lawna Bourassa-Keuster, who lives in Likely, B.C., near the Mount Polley mine.

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A spokesman for the union representing Mount Polley workers has said the union hopes the mine could resume operations soon, although the mine's owner, Imperial Metals, has not said when that could happen.

Ms. Bourassa-Keuster and others at the Vancouver news conference, including Secwepemc Nation spokeswoman Kanahus Manuel, said they were worried about the spill's potential long-term impacts on fish and drinking water and whether Imperial Metals had a comprehensive cleanup plan.

In a voicemail response to questions Monday, Imperial Metals vice-president Steve Robertson said the company is working on a detailed cleanup plan but has been focusing on urgent priorities, including building a dike to ensure tailings still left in the pond are not released downstream.

"This is a long process and it doesn't happen quickly," Mr. Robertson said. "We are trying to get things to move ahead as quickly as we can and it is certainly to our advantage to do so."

Imperial Metals has not made any plans to resume operations at Mount Polley site, he added.

"There are still investigations under way and we need to wait for the results of those investigations before we can really talk about how we might be able to remedy the breach of the impoundment and get that [mine] back into a productive state," Mr. Robertson said.

At the news conference, held at the offices of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Secwepemc spokeswoman Ms. Manuel called for Imperial Metals to put its other projects – including the proposed Red Chris mine in northwestern B.C., and Ruddock Creek, a development project near Kamloops – on hold while the Mount Polley investigation is under way.

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"Many chiefs and people are calling for a mining moratorium until we can address these issues – that there is no proper monitoring of this issue," Ms. Manuel said, citing what she described as poor oversight of mining operations in the province.

Imperial Metals has no plans to put any of its other projects on hold, Mr. Robertson said, adding that to do so would not make the Mount Polley cleanup go any faster and that other projects are expected to generate cash flow needed to pay for the cleanup.

In an initial-assessment report dated Aug. 27 and distributed at the news conference, a Secwepemc group said water testing by the province and Imperial Metals has "proven to be insufficient" and that area residents are still going without what they consider safe drinking water.

The breach occurred on Aug. 4 and resulted in a series of water warnings, most of which have now been lifted.

In the wake of the Mount Polley incident, the province announced an independent investigation into the cause of the breach.

The province also ordered independent third-party reviews of all other tailings ponds at permitted mines in the province.

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