Penticton and South Okanagan
Tailings spill a wake-up call
Oct 3, 2013 / 12:30 pm
The Regional District Okanagan Similkameen board passed a motion Thursday recommending to the provicincial government they consider implementing British Columbia Emergency Response System protocols to all their ministries.
The recommendation stemmed from concerns over the way the Coalmont Energy Corp. tailings spill in the Coalmont/Tulameen area was handled.
"In this case there was a considerable amount of time from when it happened to actually getting a report into the provincial government," said RDOS emergency services supervisor Dale Kronebusch.
According to Kronebusch, on Aug. 24 a water filter press malfunctioned at the Basin Coal Mine and caused a watery slurry to spill into a secondary containment pond.
The pond became breached and allowed the slurry to travel down Collins Gulch and spill into the Tulameen River
The company reported that they contacted and advised the Ministry of Energy and Mines immediately.
But information obtained from the Provincial Emergency Communications Centre indicates that the Ministry of Environment was not contacted for 24 hours and Interior Health and the RDOS were not contacted for more than 36 hours after the incident.
No one was sure if this was a benign product or if it was contaminated says Kronebusch.
"Communicating immediately on discovery of an industrial accident or incident is essential for public safety," he said." Had this incident involved a contaminated compound that was harmful to people or the environment, this could have had far reaching damages to people swimming in the river or consuming the river water for domestic purposes."
Kronebusch added the Tulameen River flows directly into the Similkameen River, which flows into the Columbia River system in the United States, potentially making it an international incident.
"In the world of emergency management there is a popular saying, plan for the worst, hope for the best," he said. "It is logical that everyone needs to act to the highest level of concern, until proven otherwise."
RDOS rural Princeton director Brad Hope described the whole thing as a little upsetting.
"We were getting all of our information from the mine itself," he said. "We need the protocol, that seems to be the way to go."
Coalmont Energy Corp., which operates the mine, has provided numerous updates since the incident took place, describing steps being taken to remedy the situation. It also held a meeting with the public.
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