The failure of the retaining dyke at the Opemiska Mine near Chapais: The Cree Regional Authority and the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) will continue to monitor progress with remedial action to prevent further environmental impacts



    NEMASKA, Eeyou Istchee, QC, Aug. 18 /CNW Telbec/ - On June 23, 2008, the
dyke retaining tailings - the residue from previous mineral processing
operations - from the former Opemiska Copper Mine at Chapais gave way. A
mixture of tailings and water from the basin which held the tailings was
released into the creek downstream from the pond, and washed away the
foundation of Highway 113 and of the railroad just to the south. The flood
stranded travelers and resulted in the intervention of Environment Québec's
emergency services. The tailings were carried downstream to the Obatagamau and
Chibougamau rivers, and there was understandable concern about the impacts of
this dyke failure.
    The purpose of this press release is to explain the initial response of
the Grand Council of the Crees and the Cree Regional Authority to this
incident. In the words of Grand Chief Matthew Mukash: 'The Environment
Department of the Cree Regional Authority has been following closely the
events which have followed the failure of the dyke. The CRA has maintained
close communications with officials from Québec's Environment Ministry as well
as with officials and representatives from Oujé-Bougoumou and Waswanipi. We
were particularly concerned about hazards related to drinking water quality
and the possibility of toxic effects on fish. There is relief that no serious
effects on drinking water quality or on fish have been found. However, we will
continue to follow the investigation, and we will report again once we have
the reports and can respond to the proposed remedial measures'.
    The Opemiska Mine closed in 1991, after operations extending over roughly
30 years. Apparently, the close-out measures were considered satisfactory by
Québec's Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife, which took over
responsibility for the site. This government department is now responsible for
remedial action, and we consider it important that the Cree be consulted about
the remedial measures and involved in their implementation. We will work to
make sure that this happens.
    It is important to keep in mind that the engineering works at the
Opemiska Mine date back to 1991, five years before the Mining Act was changed
to tighten standards for closing mines and restoring areas disturbed by mining
activities. The mining industry itself now remains responsible for restoration
and for subsequent monitoring. The Cree communities have had very limited
opportunities to become engaged in the closing of mines and later monitoring.
The search for ways of actively involving the Cree communities in these
processes is currently a priority for both the Cree Regional Authority and the
Grand Council of the Crees.
    In the case of the Opemiska spill, we have concentrated on problems of
water quality. There has been concern about the transport downriver of the
very fine silt-like material in the tailings pond (responsible for the grey
appearance of surface waters), and about the possibility of abnormal levels of
copper, zinc, iron and possibly other metals, which may result in toxicity to
fish.
    The Public Health Department of the Cree Health Board has also been
following this incident, and has issued an advisory notice to explain that
there is no need for concern about eating fish taken from the rivers
downstream (other than the usual cautions about mercury concentrations). The
Cree Health Board also points out that surface waters, in any case, contain
micro-organisms and should be boiled before drinking. We support these
recommendations.
    We expect to issue a second statement once we have received the
government reports on water quality and on remedial measures, and have had an
opportunity to assess these reports.




For further information:

For further information: Mr. Cameron McLean, Environmental Management
Specialist, Cree Regional Authority, Montréal, (514) 861-5837


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