A Google Earth shot of the Sullivan tailings ponds in Kimberley.

A Google Earth shot of the Sullivan tailings ponds in Kimberley.

Sullivan tailings ponds through the years

A history of incidents occurring in 1948, 1974 and 1991

  • Aug. 21, 2014 5:00 a.m.

CAROLYN GRANT

As reported in the Townsman last week, there was a previous break in the Cominco tailings ponds at the Sullivan Mine in 1948. A look through old newspaper clippings and Cominco magazines from previous years, show there were also incidents in 1974 and 1991.

In the spring of 1974, according to reports in the Daily Bulletin, water began seeping into streets and basements on 301st Street in Marysville. A study by an engineering firm determined the source was the calcine pond behind the Fertilizer plant. The report recommended that Cominco reduce the amount of water it was discharging into the calcine pond by adding a thickener. It also recommended a drainage ditch be put in at the toe of the bank to carry excess water into Cow Creek.

There was a problem with the tailings ponds in 1991 as well.

Cominco Magazine’s December 1991 edition described it as follows.

“On August 23, at approximately 4 p.m., a major dyke failure 1,050 feet long occurred along the perimeter of the active tailings impoundment area at the Sullivan Concentrator. The failure occurred within an hour of the completion of another lift on this engineered structure. Fortunately, no one was injured and no tailings were released to the environment.

“The site was immediately secured, and the Mines Inspector was on site within two hours to inspect the area.”

At that time, a drilling and soil sampling program was conducted to determine the cause and report on the stability of the entire structure.

Cominco Magazine reported in September of 1992 that 790,000 cubic yards of float rock were required to repair the failed dyke.

“During the investigation of the remaining iron dyke, the geo-technical consultant identified another area of foundation weaknesses similar to the failure area and several areas of localized weakness higher up in the dyke.

“These areas required stabilization to prevent another possible failure from occurring especially in the event of an earthquake.”

There are lessons to be learned from each tailings dam failure suggests a paper written in BC in 2002 entitled ‘Mine Tailings Dams: When Things Go Wrong’. The paper was written by Michael Davies, Todd Martin and Peter Lighthall at AGRA Earth & Environmental Limited, Burnaby, BC.

The report begins by stating: “Mine tailings impoundment failures continue to occur at unacceptable rates. The worldwide mining industry has experienced roughly one significant impoundment failure per year over the past 30 years.

“So why do failures of tailings dams continue to occur? The failures are not just of older facilities constructed without formal designs, but include facilities designed and commissioned in the past 5 to 20 years – supposedly the “modern age” of tailings dam engineering.

“The first step in evaluating the reasons for continued tailings dam failures comes from recognizing the uniqueness of mine tailings dams. The unique attributes include:

• Tailings impoundments are among the largest man-made structures with several approaching 1 x 109  tonnes of stored slurried tailings;

• Tailings dams are built on a continuous basis by mine operators; and

• Tailings dams are a cost to the mining process – they do not generate a revenue stream akin to a hydroelectric dam.”

“The Sullivan tailings facility had been under the design and monitoring stewardship of a recognized consulting organization. This event served to demonstrate that “a well intentioned corporation employing apparently well-qualified consultants is not adequate insurance against serious incidents” (Morgenstern, 1998). Ironically, the 1991 event was similar in nature to a dyke failure that occurred in 1948. The passage of more than forty years should not have been enough to induce the designers into TDA (Tailings Dam Amnesia).

TDA refers to a state of tailings dam design or stewardship where lessons available at that very site are ignored in spite of ample available information on-site, visual evidence of previous event occurrence and/or published accounts of incidents on a given project.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

The total number of cases in the region since the pandemic began is now at 7,334

The Site C Dam location is seen along the Peace River in Fort St. John, B.C., Tuesday, April 18, 2017. The cost of British Columbia’s Site C hydroelectric dam has grown to $16 billion and the completion has been moved up a year to 2025. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
BC Liberal energy critic blasts ‘lack of transparency’ on Site C

MLA Tom Shypitka says Site C going ahead is a ‘good thing’, blames NDP for mismanagement

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons. File photo.
Kootenay-Columbia MP supports motion condemning Uighur genocide

Rob Morrison says labelling Uighur persecution as a genocide sends a message to Chinese government

The BC Prosecution Service announced last year that it was appointing lawyer Marilyn Sandford as a special prosecutor to review the case, following media inquiries about disclosure issues linked to a pathologist involved in the matter. (Black Press Media files)
Possible miscarriage of justice in Cranbrook woman’s conviction in toddler drowning: prosecutor

Tammy Bouvette was originally charged with second-degree murder but pleaded guilty in 2013 to the lesser charge

Brent Bidston is the president of Angel Flight East Kootenay. Black Press file photo.
RDEK ponders funding for Angel Flight East Kootenay

The district is considering funding for operations or to eventually help acquire a larger plane

Abbotsford’s Kris Collins turned to TikTok out of boredom when the provincial COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020. She now has over 23 million followers on the video app. Photo: Submitted
Internet famous: Abbotsford’s Kris Collins is a TikTok comedy queen

Collins has found surprise stardom alone with a phone

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read