Teck file photo.

Teck fined $60M for contaminating B.C. rivers

Teck contaminated Elk Valley rivers nearly a decade ago

Teck Coal has been fined $60 million for violations under the federal Fisheries Act related to selenium and calcite contamination of Elk Valley rivers nearly a decade ago.

The coal mining company pleaded guilty to two counts during proceedings in Fernie on Friday, as crown lawyers and defence counsel for Teck outlined a joint submission and statement of facts, which included the $60-million penalty.

It is the most expensive financial penalty ever prosecuted under the Fisheries Act.

The offences were entered by direct indictment, as both Crown and lawyers for Teck settled on a joint submission to avoid a trial that had potential to be one of the largest environmental prosecutions in Canadian history.

The fisheries violations date back to 2012, one related to Fording River and one related to closed ponds, which were affected by Fording River and Greenhills coal mining operations.

Teck Resources CEO and Persident Don Lindsay personally apologized in a statement released immediately after the ruling.

”Today, Teck reached a resolution of charges under the Fisheries Act in connection with discharges of selenium and calcite from our steelmaking coal operations in the Elk Valley of British Columbia in 2012,” said Lindsay.

“We sincerely apologize and take responsibility for the impacts of these discharges. Everyone at Teck is committed to responsible mining that protects the environment. Which is why, over the nine years since, we have worked hard to solve this challenge and ensure the watershed is sustained for the long term.”

The fines translate to $80,000 per day throughout 2012 on both counts, coming out to approximately $60 million. The fines were portioned off; $2 million for administrative penalties, while $58 million to be directed to the Environmental Damages Fund.

The fisheries act violations stem from impacts to Westslope cutthroat trout in the upper Fording River, which the federal government listed as a threatened species in 2005, reconfirming that designation five years ago.

READ: Teck Coal pleads guilty to 2014 environmental charge

In 1971, closed settling ponds were built near the Fording River to support coal mining operations, however, fish were able to move between the river and the settling ponds through a creek running between them.

While the company attempted to construct fish barriers in the early 2000s, enforcement officers determined they were not effective in 2012. Two years later, the fish barriers were repaired, preventing fish from entering the ponds.

The fisheries violations also stemmed from contamination from large piles of waste rock — excess material that is removed from the ground in order to access coal deposits and stored as large piles covering dozens of hectares.

Selenium and calcite, naturally occurring elements, leach from those waste rock piles and into surface or ground water, where it flows into tributaries and other Elk Valley waterways. While high levels of selenium can adversely affect fish mortality, calcite on river beds also binds material together and negatively impacts fish habitat.

Over the lifespan of the mines, billions of cubic metres of waste rock have been removed and placed in the upper Fording River watershed.

A representative from the Ktunaxa Nation also delivered a community impact statement, describing effects the contamination has had on the Nation’s stewardship of ancestral land and waterways, which includes much of the southern interior of B.C. and extends into the U.S. Pacific Northwest region.

Vickie Thomas told the court that Ktunaxa citizens continue to hunt and practice sustenance rights in the upper Fording River area, however, younger generations aren’t as familiar with the region due to “intensity of industrial development, difficulty of accessing areas through existing mines, concerns regarding water and windborne pollutants for coal mines and the general sense of not feeling welcome because of industrial alienation associated with the mining industry.”

Thomas added that all things are connected and must be kept in balance, as a foundation of Ktunaxa spirituality.

“Anything that affects one, affects everything else,” she said.

As part of the statement, Thomas also included an illustration that visualizes the Ktunaxa Nation’s connection to the land and water, which was done by Darcy Luke and Marisa Phillips.

Several factors were included in the joint submission, such as the seriousness of the offences, Teck’s admission of guilt, co-oporation with enforcement investigators, and work the company has done to address water quality issues over the last decade.

Teck lawyers pointed to the creation of the Elk Valley Water Quality Management Plan and the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been invested into developing active water treatment facilities at Fording River and Line Creek operations as well as saturated rock fill technologies.

Since the plan was created in 2014, Teck says it has spent $1 billion developing those technologies and constructing the facilities, with plans to spend another $1 billion on water quality initiatives over the next decade.

Currently, the company says it’s water treatment operations filter 47 million litres of water a day, with plans to double that capacity to 77.5 million litres per day over the next few years as additional facilities come online.

Teck was previously fined $1.4 million four years ago for offences under the Fisheries Act that occurred in 2014, after toxic effluent at the Line Creek Active Water Treatment facility was blamed for killing 74 fish in waterways near mining operations.

Last fall, the federal government also issued a direction under the Fisheries Act to improve water quality and prevent calcite deposits in waterways affected by Fording River and Greenhills operations. The direction set out requirements for water management complementary to the Elk Valley Water Quality Management Plan, such as diversions, mine planning, fish monitoring and calcite prevention measures, among other stipulations.



trevor.crawley@cranbrooktownsman.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

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

Just Posted

Nolan Foote becomes the 62nd Rocket to suit up in an NHL regular-season game on Sunday afternoon (Photo: Kelowna Rockets)
Former Kelowna Rockets captain plays first NHL game

Nolan Foote played his first game with the New Jersey Devils on Sunday

Pastor Cliff Siebert of the Okanagan Landing Community Church (centre) addresses some of his congregation in-person for the first time in many months Sunday, April 18, as the church held the first of what they hope will be regular outdoor services with COVID protocols adhered to and obeyed. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)
Vernon church hosts outdoor service

Okanagan Landing Community Church put strict COVID protocols in place to hold sermon in back parking lot

The City of Armstrong has been named one of Canada’s 20 best towns to live based on low cost of living and high paying jobs, according to a survey by Numbeo. (Facebook photo/Rhythm Productions)
Armstrong lands among 20 best cities to live in Canada

Survey conducted based on low cost of living and high paying jobs; five other B.C. towns on list

Windsurfers enjoying a windstorm on Skaha Lake in Penticton on March 28, 2021. (Sandy Steck Photography)
Wind warning issued for Okanagan Valley

Boaters are being warned of gusts up to 70 km/h by late afternoon on Sunday

Vernon Vipers forward Ryan Shostak (centre) fends off a check from Salmon Arm defenceman to get a close-in scoring attempt on Silverbacks goalie Owen Say during Vernon’s 3-2 B.C. Hockey League pod play shootout victory Saturday, April 17, at Kal Tire Place. (Lisa Mazurek - Vernon Vipers photography)
Vernon Vipers use shootout to subdue Salmon Arm

Snakes score 3-2 B.C. Hockey League pod play win at Kal Tire Place

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Flow Academy is located at 1511 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
National fitness group condemns unlicensed Kelowna gym’s anti-vaccine policy

The Fitness Industry Council of Canada says Flow Academy is shining a negative light on the industry

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

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Nothing stopping provinces from offering AstraZeneca vaccine to all adults: Hajdu

Health Canada has licensed the AstraZeneca shot for use in people over the age of 18

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A Kelowna Pride Festival 2019 participant holds up a flag. (Kelowna Pride Society)
Kelowna Pride, RCMP continue to work on ‘Safe Place Program’

A new committee has been formed to refine the ‘Safe Place Program’ created by the Kelowna RCMP

A strange odour at a West Kelowna apartment building prompted the evacuation of 150 residents on Sunday morning, April 18. (Aaron Hemens - Capital News)
Strange smell at West Kelowna apartment prompts evacuation of 150 residents, pets

150 residents ordered evacuated from a West Kelowna apartment building early Sunday morning

Most Read