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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.

My partner Bonny & I travelled for two days from Tofino to the Yuct Ne Senxiymetkwe Camp at the mine entrance, near Likely BC.

We ran into Doug Gook, an old friend whose family has lived near Quesnel for three generations. As he described the lay of the land I began to realize that BC’s biggest mining disaster had happened in the heart of some of the province’s best wild lands.

Quesnel Lake wild
Quesnel Lake is one of the deepest lakes in the world, and home to one quarter of the Fraser River’s sockeye salmon. At the headwaters of Quesnel Lake lie the wild valleys of Cariboo Mountain Provincial Park, which connects the Bowron Lakes and Wells Gray parks.

The entire region is unceded traditional territory of the Xats’ull and other First Nations, and now home to the small community of Likely, population 350.

Polley Lake and Hazeltine Creek destroyed
We hiked in to Polley Lake, which used to be a sweet little lake with the tailings dam looming above it. I got a headache immediately, and Bonny’s sinuses began to burn, with no relief until we hiked up the hill away from Polley Lake and got back into fresh air.

We watched fish jumping in the lake. The campsites on the shore have been closed, and Polley Lake has become a de facto tailings storage facility. We could see and hear the pumps operating, trying to lower the lake level by pumping the mine’s spilled effluent right into a natural waterway called Hazeltine Creek.

At least it used to be a natural waterway—a quiet woodland creek about two metres wide. We hiked in the next day to see what had happened there. It is still hard to think about what we witnessed. There was a fifty-metre wide swath of mine tailings with a ten-metre deep canyon running down the middle of it. A raging little creek of mine effluent was flowing through the canyon and emptying directly into Quesnel Lake. Hazeltine Creek is gone—obliterated from the face of this Earth forever.

First Nations and Likely residents left holding the bag
One of the hardest things to witness was the human impact. Locals, whether they work at the mine or not, are in shock about what has happened. Their future is completely uncertain, whether they consider the lake they love, their drinking water, their indigenous rights and title, their real estate value, or their future employment.  First Nations and Likely residents bore the risks of having a mine in their backyard, and now they have been left holding the bag.

Imperial Metals had no disaster plan in place, nor have they yet made one public. They have hinted that it is not possible to clean the mess up. But no doubt if they had money leaking from their bank account they would fix that leak immediately. If the toxic plume floating around Quesnel Lake was pure gold dust, they would invent a machine if necessary to extract it from the water. This company is in the business literally of moving mountains—if they can make a buck.

Quesnel River Protect Salmon Habitat sign

Death of a lake?
As we stood on the bridge at Likely watching this year’s sockeye swimming into the lake by the dozens, I pondered the future of Quesnel Lake. Could we be witnessing the beginning of the death of a living lake? Could the lake suddenly die—or will it be a slower and more insidious passing?

The toxins will now begin to move, not just throughout Quesnel Lake and down the Fraser watershed, but also upstream in the gills of the spawning salmon, being eaten by bears, then dispersed throughout the food web. This stuff will begin to spread and it’s anybody’s guess how that will play out. Next spring this year’s sockeye eggs will hatch, and the fry will spend a year rearing in this toxic soup—what will happen to the sockeye run in 4 years, and for generations to come?

Wake-up call
The Mt Polley mine disaster must serve as a wake-up call. The BC government has to provide clean drinking water and compensation for people impacted by the spill, and Imperial Metals needs to clean up their mess. Those toxins need to be rounded up and stored safely.

Mining policy in BC needs an overhaul—some of it was written way back in the 1800’s and is out of touch with modern realities.

One good first step would be to designate mining no-go zones. Some places are too special to be put at risk by mining—places like Clayoqout Sound, or the headwaters of the world-famous Adams River sockeye run, where Imperial wants to build their Ruddock Creek mine in Secwepemc territory.

Mark the date: On Tuesday October 21, Clayoquot Action’s Dan Lewis and Bonny Glambeck will be joined by Cree/Nuu shah nulth filmaker Nitanis Desjarlais to share images and stories from their time at the Yuct Ne Senxiymetkwe Camp. Join us for an informative evening and discussion of how to make sure Imperial Metals never opens mines in Clayoquot Sound.

Event details here.


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.

It was to prevent just such a disaster that I closed a successful kayak company here in Tofino, after watching mineral exploration helicopters flying up to Catface Mountain while I was guiding, and feeling helpless to stop them. The final straw came when locals began calling me and asking me to do something. Within years Bonny and I had founded Clayoquot Action, dedicated to addressing the challenges posed by mining, fish farms and oil tankers here in Clayoquot Sound.

Red Chris blockade set up
On Friday August 8, the Kablona Keepers, a group of Tahltan First Nation elders and families, set up a blockade at the Red Chris Mine near Dease Lake in northern BC. Red Chris is a contentious gold-copper mine being built right now in the Sacred Headwaters of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine Rivers, in un-ceded Tahltan territory.

The Sacred Headwaters region is a world-class natural area featured in a 2011 book by National Geographic Explorer-in-residence Wade Davis. The Kablona Keepers have previously been successful at keeping Royal Dutch Shell from fracking for coal-bed methane in the area, and now have major concerns about Imperial’s plan to build a tailings storage facility similar to the one which failed at Mount Polley.

Meanwhile, on August 18 a group of Neskonlith First Nations people, concerned about Imperial Metals’ plans for the Ruddock Creek mine in their territory, set up the Yuct Ne Senxiymetkwe Camp at the Mount Polley mine site to show solidarity with the Kablona Keepers.

Clayoquot Action is heading to Mount Polley
Clayoquot Action is heading to the Yuct Ne Senxiymetkwe Camp near Mount Polley, to witness the devastation first hand, and to bring images of the disaster and voices from local people back to share with the world.

Days after the disaster at Mount Polley, in an incredible display of corporate insensitivity, Imperial Metals’ president Brian Kynoch stated while visiting the area that the water was ‘almost drinking quality’.

A key part of our mission will be to obtain some of the poisoned water, which we will then offer to Brian Kynoch to drink in public, to show the world that he means what he says, and is willing to drink water which has been toxified by literally hundreds of thousands of kilograms of arsenic and lead, as well as thousands of kilograms of cadmium and mercury.

If you have ever considered supporting Clayoquot Action’s work to prevent mines from opening here in Clayoquot Sound, this would be a good time to do so! Your support will help ensure that a Mount Polley-type disaster never destroys the ocean, river, and rainforest ecosystems of Clayoquot Sound. Please donate generously.

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
The salmon farming industry is hoping to undergo a fourfold increase in production by 2030, and the federal government is slashing environmental protections to help make that happen. In a recent Vancouver Sun article a senior official stated “In British Columbia, we’re in a position now where I think the scenarios and signals are all positive…the industry is getting ready for a bit of a takeoff there.”

This is happening in the wake of Justice Cohen’s report on the state of Fraser River sockeye. The Cohen Inquiry took 3 years to complete and cost $26 million. Of Cohen’s 75 recommendations, only 8 have been implemented.

Potential for harm “serious and irreversible”
While Cohen did not find a ‘smoking gun’ linking the decline of wild salmon directly to salmon farming, he did note that the potential for harm to wild fish from salmon feedlots is “serious and irreversible”.

Clayoquot Sound is Vancouver Island’s last great rainforest. Wild salmon are the lifeblood of this ecosystem—yet despite the abundance of pristine habitat, local salmon populations are in serious decline. Adding yet more salmon farms to Clayoquot Sound without truly understanding the associated risks is reckless and irresponsible.

Please sign Clayoquot Action’s petition asking BC Premier Christy Clark to refuse to grant the seabed lease for these 2 new salmon farms in Clayoquot Sound.


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 TofinoOilSpill.com! 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

Gold stays in the ground

Long live Fish Lake!

By Joe Foy, Wilderness Committee National Campaign Director

A couple of weeks ago our office at the Wilderness Committee had erupted in a rising babble of excited disbelief. All around me people were frantically logging on to their computers to get confirmation of some seemingly impossible news.

Our federal Environment Minister, the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, had announced Continue reading

more precious than gold

More precious than gold

Dan Lewis is a founding director of Clayoquot Action.

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations (TFN) continue to oppose proposed exploration for gold in the Tranquil Valley Tribal Park. Last August Vancouver-based Selkirk Metals (owned by Imperial Metals Corporation) was granted a permit despite opposition from TFN. The Tla-o-qui-aht are not satisfied with the level of consultation by the company and the BC government. Continue reading