The Regional District of Central Kootenay has launched a lawsuit against Teck Resources Ltd. over contamination from a tailings pond near Salmo.
According to a statement of claim filed late last month with the BC Supreme Court in Vancouver, the regional district wants reimbursement for ongoing remediation work on the old HB mine site, which it bought for landfill purposes in 1998.
Teck, formerly Cominco, owned the property from 1955 to 1981 and operated the mine until 1978. The regional district says the contamination consists of lead, zinc, cadmium, and arsenic and that “numerous” tailings releases occurred while the mine operated.
It also cited a 2007 incident in which flows from the tailings pond spread to a nearby property. In July 2012, heavy rain caused a sinkhole to form on the pond’s earthen dam. The regional district spent more than $800,000 stabilizing and reconstructing the dam, which it billed to the province.
It claims Teck “failed to take any steps … to prevent the migration of the contamination off of the property to the off-site areas” while the RDCK continues to incur costs for remediation.
It says that work includes building an engineered wetland to treat surface water, groundwater monitoring, and completion of a containment berm to prevent leaching. However, it’s not clear from the statement of claim exactly how much taxpayers have been on the hook for.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
RDCK chair John Kettle said the lawsuit was filed only after “making every effort” to convince Teck the materials in the tailings pond are their responsibility, even though the company has not owned the property for more than 30 years.
“We believe when you create an environmental hazard like that, you can’t just sell it and walk away,” he said. “You’re liable for clean up. We intend to pursue that as aggressively as possible. Their belief that caveat emptor applies is asinine.”
Teck said it had yet to receive the statement of claim, but in a written statement the company said it has a “long history” of working collaboratively with communities, including regional districts, municipalities and indigenous people.
“We will review the claim with counsel and we intend to respond in due course,” the company said.
At the time of the tailings dam problem in 2012, CBC News reported that the regional district paid $650,000 more for the site than the previous owner, a Panamanian company that purchased it only a year earlier.
The lawsuit comes as a tailings pond at the Mount Polley mine southeast of Quesnel was breached this week, preventing hundreds from using their water.