Imperial drops case against Mount Polley engineers
Imperial Metals Corp. has ended the lawsuit that it was pursuing against the engineers who worked on the tailings operation at its Mount Polley mine. The company had accused them of negligence in a 2014 dam failure.
IMPERIAL METALS Corp. has quietly dropped the lawsuit that it filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia against two engineering firms over a tailings spill at its Mount Polley mine in 2014. The company had claimed that the firms were negligent in the spill. For their part, the engineers had denied any wrongdoing. The end of the lawsuit is contained in a consent order filed at the Vancouver courthouse on Dec. 17, 2018. The order simply states that the case is dismissed, with each side to pay its own legal fees. Lawyers for Imperial Metals and the other parties signed the order.
With the end of the lawsuit there will, of course, be no determination of which party was responsible for the widely publicized spill, at least in court. A professional organization, Engineers and Geoscientists British Columbia, is planning disciplinary proceedings against three engineers who worked on the project. The regulatory body says that the three (Stephen Rice, Laura Fidel and Todd Martin) demonstrated “unprofessional conduct.” That matter has yet to go to a hearing. There was also an independent review panel that released a report into the spill in 2015, but its findings were far from definitive. The report did not blame anybody in particular, determining that the failure was most likely a result of design problems.
The end of the lawsuit comes over four years after the Aug. 4, 2014, failure of the tailings dam at Mount Polley, an open pit gold-copper mine near Williams Lake, B.C. On that day, earth below a section of the dam’s perimeter slipped. This led to an embankment collapsing, and a subsequent release of tailings. As a result of the failure, the mine was shut down for just over a year.
In its subsequent lawsuit, dated July 4, 2016, Imperial said that two engineering firms, Knight Piesold Ltd. and AMEC Earth & Environmental, were responsible for the failure. Knight Piesold had designed the dam in the 1990s and had confirmed in many subsequent reports that it was safe, the suit stated. Meanwhile, AMEC had conducted independent tests of the dam. It had expressed some reservations about the foundation, but had ultimately determined that the dam was safe, according to the suit.
The firms continued to report the dam as fine despite some concern that AMEC had with the stability of a “glaciolacustrine foundation” in 2006. It questioned whether the foundation could be in a brittle condition, according to the suit. Notwithstanding those concerns, neither firm warned of design errors with the damn, Imperial said.
The suit had sought damages for negligence, misrepresentation and breach of contract. It also had sought orders that would have indemnified Imperial Metals from any third party claims. Vancouver lawyer Mark Andrews of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP represented Imperial.
For their part, the engineering firms denied any wrongdoing. In a response filed on Sept. 23, 2016, Knight Piesold said that it had warned Imperial more than once about the condition of the dam. It said that its advice went unheeded after Imperial hired another engineer, AMEC, in early 2011. Subsequent changes to the dam, which included raising its height and steepening its slope, caused or contributed to the ultimate failure, Knight Piesold said. Knight Piesold’s successor, AMEC, blamed Imperial for the failure. In a response filed on Sept. 23, 2016, it said that Imperial discharged far more water into the Mount Polley tailings pond than the pond was meant to hold. AMEC claimed that it had specifically warned Imperial about the issue 10 months before the dam failed.
The government also found itself dragged into the lawsuit, with AMEC claiming in a third party notice that provincial inspectors should have forced Imperial to correct problems with the dam. According to AMEC, mine operators should have been directed to start lowering the level of the tailings pond after an “overtopping event” (in which water spilled over the dam) that occurred three months before the failure. The overtopping was a dangerous occurrence, but authorities did not force any immediate corrective measures, AMEC said.
Vancouver lawyer Nicholas Hughes of McCarthy Tetrault represented AMEC, while Karen Martin of Dentons represented Knight Piesold.
For Imperial, the end of the lawsuit comes with the company having suspended mining at Mount Polley. The company cited poor copper prices in announcing the suspension. Work will continue on milling low-grade stockpiles until May, 2019. The stock closed at $1.77 Thursday, down six cents.
James Brian Kynoch, Pierre Bruno Lebel, Larry George J Moeller, Theodore William Muraro, Janine North, James Patrick Veitch, Edward Alfred Yurkowski
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