Penticton and South Okanagan
Testing the Tulameen
Sep 6, 2013 / 6:28 am
Coalmont Energy Corp. officials say they should have preliminary findings on the impact of a spill in the Tulameen River by this weekend.
Environmental experts from three companies have been at the location in the Coalmont area all week doing assessments and putting silt control dams and silt fences in place.
"We are still in this compiling stage, so it is too early to say definitely what the full impact is on the river," said company spokesman Keith Meldrum. "From the reports we get, we have to develop an action plan, and submit that to the Ministry of Environment by Sept. 8."
The company was only three months into its operation at the Basin Coal Mine when the tailings spill of approximately 6,500 gallons breached an emergency containment pond and made its way to Collin's Gulch, which feeds into the river.
As soon as staff was aware of the spill, which took place Saturday, Aug. 24, the emergency response plan was activated, mitigation plans were initiated and the Ministry of Environment was contacted and advised of the incident.
Technical experts from Polaris Applied Science Inc. and Quantam Murray LP started work over the long weekend and early this week.
Quantam Murray installed temporary silt fences and silt control dams in Collin's Gulch.
Polaris did the shoreline cleanup and assessment techniques, known as SCAT, which involved looking at how much sediment was deposited along the shoreline and in the water as well.
Triton Environmental Consultants are the third group on site, currently working on the environmental impact assessment.
The action plan compiled from their results will include sediment recovery and clean up, appropriate assessment and monitoring protocol and development of an ongoing reporting plan to regulatory agencies and stakeholders.
Although they admit they were initially slow in getting word out to Coalmont residents about reasons the river turned black, Meldrum said there has been more communication since.
Updates go out regularly to local media, and information is posted on Coalmont's community bulletin board.
A public information meeting, attended by 50 to 60 residents, was held last Friday in Tulameen.
The two issues of most concern, was the lack of information initially and worries about the water quality, said Meldrum.
Meldrum said they were apolgetic regarding the former. As far as water quality, Interior Heatlh was on hand to provide answers, telling the crowd everything was in the normal ranges.
"We didn't get outright hostility, we got people who were concerned," he said."We feel it was a good meeting."
Retiree Bob Sterne said his greatest frustration at first was the company not keeping everyone in Coalmont advised of what was going on.
"The communication has since improved, and they seem to realize they have to keep people advised if anything like this ever happens again," he said. "And my guess is with the freeze over winter and the flooding in the spring it will likely get cleaned up.
Still between now and then it could still have an impact on the ecosystem. It should just never have happened."
Resident Mike MacDonald said there has been no recreation in the river since the incident, and he still worries the spill could seep into wells in the long term.
"I am still not feeling better about what happened," he said. "There is anger and mistrust because of this."
Workers at the mine are also dealing with the aftermath. As of Sept. 2, a temporary operational curtailment, expected to last between 7 to 10 days, was put in effect.
The curtailment effects up to 100 employees and sub-contractors.
"It was just a devastating thing to have happen," said Meldrum. "We fully appreciate the significance of this event."
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