Kootenay River boat owners don’t especially care about the trace levels of arsenic left from historical mine waste in their area. They’re mostly annoyed their access to the Kootenay River has been repeatedly blocked by trenches and cement blocks placed there by Teck.
“So are you telling me you’re worried we’re all going to go down there, pick up this dirt and deliberately eat the arsenic?” one crowd member yelled Tuesday evening during a PowerPoint presentation by Teck’s Mark Tinholt at Blewett Elementary, to hoots of support from fellow audience members.
“The boat thing is what most of us are here for. Why aren’t we allowed to launch our boats and kayaks?”
The short answer: because Teck is embarking on a multi-year tailings remediation plan that will consolidate the area’s mine waste and then cover it with clean fill. In the meantime access will continue to be blocked.
“It’s a liability for Teck. That was never supposed to be a boat launch,” said Tinholt.
Hundreds of Blewett residents signed a petition last July spearheaded by Blewett resident Darrel Planden, who called Teck’s concerns about contaminated soil “a bunch of B.S.”
The area has been the site of controversy since at least the late 1990s, when Teck’s contractor SNC-Lavalin began collecting samples in the area.
“We believe there is a strong demand in the boating community for a launch and demand that the regional district work with community members to establish a public boat launch,” the petition, addressed to Area E director Ramona Faust, read.
Another organizer, Jamie Gavin, suggested a “Use at your own risk” sign could be erected, and theorized the standoff was actually started by a boat launch neighbour annoyed by the traffic.
According to the material handed out at the Blewett meeting, Teck will begin initial planning work for the area this year, though they anticipate actual remediation won’t actually begin until 2018 or 2019.
“A phased approach would be undertaken to complete the planned consolidation and cover, subject to the outcomes of the engineering and obtaining regulatory approval,” Teck’s release reads.
But they’re not likely to be thanked for their efforts, judging by the Sharpie-scrawled message left on their defaced sign at the boat launch site: ‘Thanks for nothing Teck!”
‘Don’t the fish eat the bugs?’
Teck has been very clear on the “low health risk” associated with the trace levels of waste left by the tailings, which is why locals can’t understand why they’re going to so much trouble to dig them back up.
“Why don’t you just leave it like it is?” one audience member asked. “Instead of ripping out all that vegetation?”
Tinholt explained that though the arsenic wouldn’t affect local fish, it could affect insects — a fact that prompted laughter from the audience.
“Don’t the fish eat the bugs?” someone yelled.
According to the materials provided by Teck, “there may be a reduction in abundance and diversity of insects and plants that would live within the tailings, as compared to natural sediments.”
And that’s why they’re committing to “long-term monitoring and maintenance.”
The other thing they’re very clear about: Teck didn’t own the mines that created the waste, so essentially they’re cleaning up somebody else’s mess.
‘Access control improved’
The 60 or so people who attended the presentation were treated to a thorough history of mine waste in the area and were shown maps demonstrating where they’d discovered contaminated soil.
One slide titled “Environmental work completed to date,” referred to the launch by simply noting “Access control improved.”
Blewett boat owners don’t consider it an improvement.