First Nations will be involved with British Columbia’s review of the health and safety laws that regulate mining in the province as government leaders review the tailings dam failure at the Mount Polley Mine.
It is the first time that First Nations will have equal representation as industry and organized labor in such dealings, The Globe and Mail reported.
Mines Minister Bill Bennett said the provincial government has been slow to recognize the need to give aboriginal communities a voice in shaping resource development. The challenge, he said, will be integrating B.C.’s traditional industry priorities with the more holistic perspective of First Nations around environmental protection.
“It’s unprecedented. There will be some anxiety on the industry side,” he said in an interview.
The review of the Health, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines is intended to address recommendations for better environmental regulation. The need for change was spelled out in an expert panel report that examined the failure of the tailings pond dam at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine near Williams Lake in B.C.’s Central Interior. The panel found design flaws in the dam led to the breach, which spilled 10 million cubic metres of contaminated water into the waterways below. They also warned that more dam failures can be expected if changes are not made.
Bennett also welcomed a new report from the BC First Nations Energy and Mining Council that addresses the concerns of aboriginal communities about other existing tailings-pond facilities and the continued appetite for expanded mining in B.C.
The council report mapped out the 35 active mine tailings ponds in B.C. north of Mount Polley, and traced the potential paths of contaminants from dam failures at those sites. It found thousands of kilometres of salmon-rich waterways and the drinking water of hundreds of communities are at risk of mining-related environmental disasters.
“It is actually profoundly important,” Bennett said. “It represents the First Nations’ view of the world.… Their point of view really hasn’t come in to the internal dialogue of government as much as it should have.”
The review of the code is expected to take one year, he said.
Although there are still two investigations continuing into the breach of the Mount Polley dam, the government is expected to move ahead with an application to reopen the mine this summer. Mr. Bennett said getting the mine restarted is important for the community, and it will not use the existing tailings pond.