Former deputy mayor of South Brook, Andre Beaupré, cannot drink his town water, due to the threat of contamination, but said he is more concerned at this point about the river running by his home.
When the dam holding back tailings from the former Gullbridge copper mine, about 25 kilometres from his town, broke open on Monday morning, it sent an unknown amount of toxic material into the local waters and flowing towards the town.
“I mean I live right on the water. That river flows right down by my house here,” Beaupré said, speaking by phone with The Telegram Tuesday night.
Beaupré said he thinks any heavy metals like zinc and copper left in the waste left over at the old mine might settle into South Pond, a body of water between the old mine site and the town’s water supply.
“That’s about five or six miles long and it’s really deep in some areas — I would say it’s probably 100-150 metres deep in some areas,” he said.
The idea makes him no more happy than if the waste had made it to the river by his home.
“Kona Beach, the brook down there, that’s our recreation area a long time. That’s our playground, you know. And salmon fishing — this is a big area for salmon fishing,” he said.
Beaupré said his father worked at the old mine site. He ultimately followed in his father’s footsteps, also working as a miner.
“And you know I work for a good company. I work for Teck and they’re really big on environmental stuff,” he said, going on to mention some of the differences between work as a miner today and 30 to 40 years ago.
“It’s steady monitoring (there).”
Yet many of the old mine sites were, and are, a different story. Former South Brook mayor Rocky Morey said the town was thinking about acquiring a piece of land at Goodyear’s Cove, an area near the town site, while he was mayor. That’s when the legacy of the old mine reared its head.
The town discovered environmental considerations for the area.
“The issues we were having then was where concentrate was being store up at Goodyear’s Cove. ... They were storing it in an ore shed there,” he said. As for the current situation, Morey said he doesn’t know much more than any of the other 500 or so people in town at this point.
“But the last I heard the test that was done (Tuesday) there was no toxins or no dangerous levels of toxins in our water at the time of testing,” he said.
“That’s why we’re so active about all this (environmental protection) stuff,” said Fred Winsor with the Sierra Club of Canada in Atlantic Canada.
Winsor said he and his organization oppose mines being set up with tailings impoundments like the one used at Gullbridge, exactly out of fear of the kind of situation currently unfolding.
“There are other systems that can be used for storage,” he said, acknowledging they can cost quite a bit more. “It’s all about money. But the thing is, you’re going to have to pay for it one way or the other.”
Speaking with reporters at the House of Assembly Tuesday, Liberal leader Dwight Ball said the failure of the dam at the former Gullbridge mine and the effect it is having on people in South Brook brings to mind the many former industrial sites, environmental liabilities, on the province’s books.
Ball made reference to work conducted by the provincial Auditor General (AG) around the province’s contaminated sites.
In the AG’s annual report in 2002, it as recommended a central inventory of contaminated sites be compiled. The inventory got up and running in 2004. In 2010, the AG checked in on the inventory, finding the information it contained was not accurate at some points.
“As of Oct. 2010, the database included 621 active unremediated contaminated sites, of which 252 were owned by the province,” the AG’s 2011 annual report stated. “Government does not have a long-term plan or timeline in place to systematically remediate contaminated sites.”
Current Minister of Environment Tom Hedderson said Tuesday the province has a list of priority sites and has been working through them. He said remediation work at Buchans, for example, would have been a top priority.
The tailings impoundment at the Gullbridge mine site was being dealt with as next on the list of priorities.