aerial of Hazeltine Creek after Mount Polley mine disaster. Jeremy Williams photo

Mount Polley report: no more ‘business as usual’

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.

On January 30, the BC government released the report of an independent panel appointed to determine the cause of the dam failure at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine last summer. When that dam failed, 25 million cubic metres of toxic slurry flowed into Polley Lake, down Hazeltine Creek and into the pristine waters of Quesnel Lake—home to one quarter of the Fraser River’s sockeye salmon.

The review panel was mandated to investigate and report on the cause of the dam failure, to make recommendations to government to prevent a similar failure, to comment on what could have prevented this failure, and to identify practices in other jurisdictions that could be implemented in BC.

Failure resided in the design
The Panel concluded that the dominant contribution to the failure resided in the design, which failed to identify a continuous layer of glacial till in the vicinity of the breach and to recognize that the dam was susceptible to shear failure.

The failure was triggered by constructing the dam at too steep a slope. Had the downstream slope in recent years been flattened, as proposed in the original design, the disaster would have been avoided.

Imperial Metals agreed there would be no discharges
As noted in a UVic Law Centre study, “A key issue for the public and First Nations concerning approval of the Mount Polley Mine was impacts to pristine or near pristine water bodies such as Hazeltine Creek, Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake. This issue was so significant that [in 1992] Imperial Metals agreed there would be no discharges from the tailings pond or pits … However, this key commitment was later waived [in 2005] … For the public, the granting of an effluent permit was a significant departure from what had been proposed and agreed to.”

Panel rejected “notion that business as usual can continue.”
The Panel found that there are currently 123 active tailings dams in BC. If performance in the future reflects that in the past, then on average there will be two failures every 10 years. Therefore, the Panel firmly rejected “any notion that business as usual can continue.”

One key recommendation of the Panel was to shift from underwater storage of mine tailings to, for example, surface storage using ‘dry stack’ tailings technology.

Cost estimates for conventional tailings dams do not include the costs associated with failure. The Mount Polley case underscores the magnitude of direct costs for cleanup. While economic factors cannot be neglected, neither can they continue to pre-empt best technology.

Clark doubles budget for new mine approvals
How will the BC government respond to the Panel’s recommendations? Last week, in an effort to speed up the approval process, Premier Christy Clark nearly doubled the budget for the department responsible for permitting new mine projects, stating “Up to 10 new mines are expected to proceed in the next few years, and this new funding will make sure we are ready to support these projects.”

This is not the time to fast-track a bunch of new mines in BC. It is imperative to get the Mount Polley spill cleaned up and panel recommendations implemented before launching any new mines. Incredibly Imperial Metals’ contentious Red Chris mine opened Tuesday after receiving a permit to begin to use its tailings dam, just days after the panel report was released.

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Busted on Burnaby Mountain!

Bonny Glambeck is Clayoquot Action’s Campaigns Director.

My heart was pounding as I took the microphone to speak to the crowd of two hundred rallied at the foot of Burnaby Mountain. Not because I was nervous about speaking, but because of the great emotion welling up inside of me—I was about to be arrested.

Arrested for something that has weighed heavily on my heart and mind for decades—the climate crisis. This is an overwhelmingly huge issue, one that is hard to get a handle on, hard to act on. We all do what we can, but at the end of the day systemic changes are needed to overcome the most pressing challenge of our time.

The Burnaby Mountain protest against Kinder Morgan’s proposed tripling of their TransMountain pipeline provided an opportunity to take a stand for that change.

Clayoquot Summer 1993 organizers united again
I was to be arrested with four other organizers of the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history—the 1993 Clayoquot Sound blockades. What an honour to stand united again with my colleagues Valerie Langer, Karen Mahon, Jean McLaren and Chris Hatch. Person after person spoke from their hearts about why they had come to take a stand. We then rallied on the road, and began to march up Burnaby Mountain.

Marching with us was a Vancouver choir—with six members intending to be arrested. Earl, their leader, led us all in song as we slowly made our way to the police line. We sang with all our hearts, “We shall not be moved” and other songs of Freedom and Justice.

The force of history was with us as we marched up Burnaby Mountain. Although I am a seasoned activist, that day I felt most like a citizen, one about to solemnly break the law in order to speak truth—this pipeline will not be built—to power. Not in my name, nor on behalf of the thousands who came to Burnaby Mountain during the two-month protest.

There is a tremendous freedom in living out that truth. It is an antidote to the despair brought on by the knowledge of what the climate crisis is doing, both to people and to the planet.

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Once 87 year-old grandmother Jean McLaren caught up, it was time to cross the line. The five of us held hands and ducked under the police tape. And so we found ourselves on the wrong side of the yellow police line, confident that we were on the right side of history.

The choir was singing in full harmony, “If you’ve been to jail for justice, than you’re a friend of mine”, invoking the spirits of those who fought to end slavery, who stood for civil rights, and who gained the right to vote for women.

One river rising
These movements all flow together like one river, and I could feel the power of that river rising now as we stood face to face with the police. An RCMP officer made his way down the line, explaining to each of us in turn that we were in Kinder Morgan’s restricted work area, and we must move or be arrested.

I tell him “no”, I will not move and I will not walk. We are all carried away, except for Jean who is escorted to a waiting police cruiser. It’s like Clayoquot Summer all over again.


Crossing the line for climate justice
We were put in a paddy wagon, joined shortly by the arrested choir members. Our hours in the paddy wagon and jail were filled with harmonious songs, laughter and much strategizing.

The following day Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, called supporters and media together on Burnaby Mountain. Chief Stewart spoke, saying “This war is a consequence of the Harper Government…in a very clumsy and aggressive way, pitting dirty oil against clean water, provoking a conflict between the environment and the economy. I stand on the side of clean water. I stand on the side of a clean healthy environment. And I’m here because I’m gravely concerned about the future wellbeing of not only my grandchildren—but all of our grandchildren’s grandchildren.”

Tsleil-Waututh Chief Rueben George, whose territory the mountain is in, said, “It is so touching and beautiful to see our elders leading the way to make sure that we all have a better future.”


Phillip, George and elder Amy George then led hundreds of people down to Bore Hole One, where Chief Phillip and Amy George crossed the line with the utmost dignity. (View video here) The arrests that day brought the total for the week up to 120.

Round one of People vs Pipelines goes to the People!
That same day in court, it was determined that Kinder Morgan had bungled the GPS coordinates, and therefore the line where police had been arresting people was in the wrong place. All charges were dropped! The next day (Friday November 28) we arrived at Burnaby Mountain to see Kinder Morgan’s helicopter removing their drill rigs. They had thrown in the towel!

Clayoquot Action’s six days on Burnaby Mountain were an incredible experience. What an honour it was to stand united with people of all ages and all colours, and to send Kinder Morgan packing.

Listen to Bonny’s live interview on CFAX Radio from November 27, 2014, with Pamela McCall. Starts at 33:00.

Check out Tofino photographer Marnie Recker’s powerful portraits from Burnaby Mountain.

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Mount Polley eyewitness video

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.

It was a dark and stormy night—October 21st—the night of Clayoquot Action’s Mount Polley Eyewitness Report presentation in Tofino. The evening featured Nitanis Desjarlais, Dan Lewis and Bonny Glambeck who had all traveled from the west coast to witness the Mount Polley disaster. Continue reading

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Mount Polley eyewitness

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.

(This year on BC Day, in the wee hours of the morning, the tailings dam at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine burst. Twenty-five million cubic metres of toxic effluent poured out into Polley Lake, and from there began to rush down Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake.)

I didn’t really want to go to Mount Polley. I felt I had to go—to see for myself how bad things could get if Imperial Metals ever succeeded in opening a similar mine on Catface Mountain in Clayoquot Sound. What I saw broke my heart. Continue reading


Heading for Mount Polley

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.

From the best to the worst BC Day ever
This year on BC Day, I was off paddling near Tofino, camping in Ahous Bay, one of my favourite places in the world. The weather was fantastic, and we caught a glimpse of a wolf when we arrived—a sure sign you’re in the wild. The beach we camped on has a great view of Catface Mountain, traditionally known by Ahousaht First Nations as čitaapii. Catface can be seen from the Whiskey Dock in downtown Tofino (pictured above).

Imagine our horror upon returning home to learn that possibly the largest environmental disaster in BC history had occurred that day at Mount Polley mine, owned by Imperial Metals. The implications for Clayoquot were chilling, as the same company has the same plans for Catface Mountain, right in the heart of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Continue reading

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map of 2 new fish farms in clayoquot sound bc

Salmon farm expansion in Clayoquot Sound

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.

2 more salmon farms in Clayoquot?
Cermaq Canada, a Norwegian-owned company, has applied for 2 new salmon feedlots in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. There are already 21 feedlot sites in Clayoquot.

The new feedlots would be located in Ahousaht First Nations’ territories, one in Millar Channel (on the route to Hot Springs Cove), and one in Herbert Inlet (close to the unlogged Moyeha River which has been protected since 1911 in Strathcona Park).

The 2 new Clayoquot Sound feedlots are part of a major expansion of salmon farms on the BC coast. The federal government, which imposed a moratorium on new licenses during the Cohen Inquiry, indicated to the salmon farming industry last October that they had been given a green light, and began accepting new license applications this spring.

Industry poised to increase fourfold Continue reading


Northern Gateway—the Clayoquot of our times

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action. Photo by Marnie Recker Photography.

It’s time to draw the line
Pundits have been saying that Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project will be the ‘Clayoquot’ of our times. No wonder. There is no more pressing challenge facing our planet and thus humanity than the climate crisis. It’s time to draw the line.

I suspect Prime Minister Harper has no idea that he will be unable to build a pipeline from Alberta to the Great Bear Rainforest. I totally get why he will try to do it—under his leadership Canada has become a petrostate, and doubling tar sands production is the only vision he has for our country. Continue reading


Oil-free Clayoquot!

Clayoquot Action campaigner Bonny Glambeck is a survivor of the Nestucca oil spill.

The 1989 Nestucca spill hits Long Beach
Her yellow rain gear smeared with crude oil, Valerie Langer is standing on the red carpet in the BC legislature lobby. In her gloved hand is a dead oil-soaked seabird. Flecks of oil hit the freshly painted wall as she gesticulates. A distressed commissionaire scurries about wiping up spots of oil, while explaining that the Environment Minister is not in his office today.

It’s January 1989, just weeks after the Nestucca oil spill. During the holidays, the Nestucca oil barge rammed it’s own tugboat in Washington state after a cable snapped. The US Coast Guard ordered the leaking barge be towed out to sea. 5,500 barrels of oil were spilled. The spill could not be contained or tracked because the oil floated just below the surface. In the early days of January, to everyone’s surprise and horror, the spill began to wash ashore near Tofino. Continue reading

Tanker on Chestermans Beach

Tofino Oil Spill—Fossil Fools Day!

Dan Lewis is a founding director of Clayoquot Action.

Happy Fossil Fools Day!

Thanks to everyone who checked out! Imagine if this had not been a prank—how would you feel if you heard there was an major oil spill near Tofino—for real? We staged the mock oil spill in Tofino to show the ridiculous reality the fossil fools are pushing. Continue reading