June/July 2015

Letter to the editor

Allow for time to tell

The article “Design flaws” in the March/April 2015 edition of CIM Magazine reported on the findings of the Mount Polley review panel. The independent panel was expressly directed to avoid assigning liability of the breach. We are concerned that some of the intonations in the article may lead your readers to conclude that guilt has already been assigned and thus thought it prudent to stress that any conclusions to this effect are premature while the rigorous investigations being carried out by the Government of British Columbia’s Inspector of Mines and Ministry of Environment Conservation Officer Service are ongoing. These investigations are expected to produce additional information.

As the former Engineer of Record, Knight Piésold Ltd. assisted Mount Polley Mining Corporation for more than two decades with the successful design and operation of their tailings storage facility. Knight Piésold adopted a conservative design philosophy wherein flat embankment slopes and/or buttresses were incorporated to ensure appropriate factors of safety for each stage of development. We are confident that the tailings dam was constructed with stable slopes and the impoundment was functioning properly with extensive drained tailings beaches and a relatively small volume of ponded water when we departed from the Mount Polley project in 2010. Furthermore, at the time of this extremely unfortunate incident, we provided a public statement on Aug. 8, 2014 to provide clarity and transparency about our role as the former Engineer of Record. Significant design changes were made subsequent to our involvement, such that the tailings storage facility can no longer be considered a Knight Piésold design.

We cooperated fully with the Independent Review Panel and continue to support the ongoing investigations of the Inspector of Mines and the Conservation Officer Service. We remain confident that a detailed sequencing of events that led to the unfortunate occurrence of Aug. 4, 2014 will be made public in due course. As a concerned member of the mining community, it is of paramount importance to us that a full understanding of the causality of this breach is developed. This will support ongoing work with mining companies, regulatory bodies, First Nations and communities to implement robust and feasible preventative measures throughout all the jurisdictions in which we work.

Yours truly,
Greg Smyth, Knight Piésold Ltd.

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