Andre Beaupré, the former deputy mayor of South Brook, cannot drink his town’s water due to the threat of contamination, but said he is more concerned 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 last Monday morning, it sent an unknown amount of toxic material into the local waters and flowing towards the town.
“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 such as 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. 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 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 townsite, while he was mayor.
That’s when the legacy of the old mine reared its head, as the town discovered environmental considerations for the area.
“The issues we were having then was where concentrate was being stored 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.
“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.
On Wednesday afternoon, a spokeswoman with the Department of Environment confirmed tests to that point still showed no indication of any contamination of the water supply.
Kona Beach, the brook down there, that’s our recreation area a long time. That’s our playground. And salmon fishing – this is a big area for salmon fishing. - Andre Beaupré, former deputy mayor of South Brook
That said, monitoring will continue and some of the water samples have been sent to a lab outside the province, with first results expected Christmas Eve.
Fred Winsor with the Sierra Club of Canada in Atlantic Canada said he and his organization oppose mines being set up with tailings impoundments like the one used at Gullbridge, 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.”
When speaking Tuesday with reporters at the House of Assembly about the situation, Liberal Leader Dwight Ball referred to work conducted by the provincial auditor general (AG) around the province’s contaminated sites.
In the AG’s annual report in 2002, it was 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 October 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.”
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 withj as it was next on the list of priorities.
“A dam safety inspection of the dam at the former Gullbridge mine was completed in 2010-11,” stated the Environment spokeswoman Wednesday.
“The dam was found to require the full extent of repairs following a more detailed review of its stability. ... This review identified that repairs were needed on a priority basis.”
According to the department, years of testing of the South Brook water supply, prior to the tailings incident, did not indicate the presence of any contaminants.