Rumours and conflicting reports are muddying the waters after coal mine spill turns river black. We need to talk.
We’ve been waiting to get information about what is happening with the Tulameen River water. There’s a lot of very angry people and it would be appropriate for the Coalmont Energy Corporation to tell them what is going on. Especially since it’s been two days and the story is starting to circulate elsewhere. Notably, Global News has a story with facts which are different from what we know here. What is going on?
Global reports that there was a failure of “a coal mine tailings pond” but earlier information from the mine indicates that they are not using a tailings pond at all. (see story) Processing water is being recycled and all they do is top it up. The pond is there from the previous company, Compliance Coal, and is not being used now. On the other hand Keith Meldrum of CEC is reported as having said that the spill was caused by a malfunction at their new plant. Failure of a tailings pond is indeed a malfunction, but if they’re not using it then wouldn’t the cause lie elsewhere – like somebody doing something they shouldn’t have? So now we have more questions than we had before.
According to Global, Meldrum said that the effect was believed to be mostly visual and that there was minimal impact. This is likely true, but telling the residents of Coalmont about this would be a welcome gesture. We are the people who’s daily lives are potentially impacted by this spill.
Meldrum is also reported to have said that the tailings are not toxic because the Blakeburn coal doesn’t contain sulfur or blasting contaminates. Was he not told that they’ve been blasting lately? Besides, without reference, this seems like a bold statement. The current plant is designed to be very clean, and is presumably a known factor, but the tailings pond is left over from a previous company with unsophisticated processing, and who knows what they could have left behind.
The handling of this event is disappointing. From the public relations standpoint, it does not look like there is a commitment to openness. Bringing in an outsider like Meldrum to talk about it, someone who apparently lags behind contemporary wisdom of how to do damage control when a mistake is made, only makes the situation worse. To CEC’s credit however, it should be mentioned that they were the first ones to call the Ministry Of Environment. Brad Hope, our Area ‘H’ representative, commented that “I would have been really uncomfortable if it has been someone else – good for them.”
Apparently Interior Health also does’t know we exist. Their reported statement that there are no wells within 18 km is a jaw dropper. Why would they say that? We’re all on wells in this community and it is a narrow valley so everything is close to the river. Some people have a well within a few feet of the Tulameen and they in particular would like some reassurance about their water. It is worrying that we’re invisible to the government authority which is charged with regulating the safety of drinking water in this province.
In any case, considering the current mood here, leaving Coalmontians out of the picture could well be a bad move. My guess is that it might serve the CEC’s public image well if there was some sort of communication aimed at the people whose lives are directly effected. In fact, the sooner the better, before any more damage is done. §