Cleanup scheduled for Banks Island

May 11, 2016 | Shannon Lough | Northern View

The Gitxaala Nation have serious concerns about the contamination left behind after the Banks Island gold mine shut down and they want to know what is being done about it.

The matter was brought up in the B.C. legislative assembly last week by MLA Jennifer Rice who cited a letter she saw from the Gitxaala Environmental Monitoring Group.

“Almost nothing has been done by the government ministries to attempt to understand the seriousness of the spill as it relates to environmental contamination or human health effects,” stated James Witzke, the biologist from the environmental group, in the letter submitted to the Ministry of Energy and Mines on Feb. 26.

The Banks Island gold mine was issued a shut down order by the Ministry of Environment in July 2015 due to numerous violations, including a tailings spill on the island.

Witzke said in the letter that in the months after the spill almost nothing had been done by the government to understand the seriousness of the incident and the affect it may have on the environment or human health.

The Ministry of Environment had ordered the company to implement clean-up activities, but Banks Island Gold filed for bankruptcy on December 31, 2015. The province took a $420,000 security bond from the proponent, which is meant for ongoing monitoring and to carry out reclamation of the site.

“It’s taking way too long,” Rice said last week. “Almost a year has passed and now (the Gitxaala) have started seaweed harvesting. There is no telling if the people who normally harvest can safely go back.”

But the Ministry of Energy and Mines had already responded to concerns highlighted in the letter from the Gitxaala. Between March 16 until April 1, the ministry collaborated with Banks Island Gold to remove explosives and dispose them offsite, said the ministry’s spokesperson Suntanu Dalal. The ministry also sent its technical experts to Banks Island from May 9-11 to assess hazardous materials there to prepare for a possible site clean-up, but nothing is set in stone.

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