Skip to content

Unprofessional conduct found against two engineers over Mount Polley Mine dam breach

Professional regulator Engineers and Geoscientists BC announced the findings Aug. 10
Two engineers have been found to have demonstrated unprofessional conduct in the course of their work at Mount Polley Mine connected with the Aug. 2014 tailings storage facility breach. This is a view of the breach repairs in 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

Seven years after Canada’s largest mining disaster, a disciplinary panel has found two engineers demonstrated unprofessional conduct in their course of work at Mount Polley Mine east of Williams Lake.

When the tailings storage facility breached on Aug. 4, 2014, about 17 million cubic metres of water and eight million cubic meters of tailings and materials emptied into nearby Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake.

Separate disciplinary hearings were held for former engineer Stephen Rice and engineer Laura Fidel, noted Engineers and Geoscientists BC (EGBC) in a news release issued Aug. 10.

A discipline hearing panel for EGBC imposed the maximum fine of $25,000 against Rice plus he agreed to pay $107,500 in legal costs to Engineers and Geoscientists BC.

Rice resigned his engineering license in January 2018 and is no longer permitted to practise professional engineering in B.C.

A discipline hearing panel found Rice failed to properly fulfill the role of review engineer, demonstrated unprofessional conduct by allowing Fidel, a junior engineer who had little experience with embankment design, to act as engineer of record for the project, failed to ensure sufficient observation and monitoring of the tailings dam, failed to document his review work, and failed to ensure an excavation left unfilled at the toe of the embankment was assessed to determine what impact it may have on the stability of the embankment.

READ MORE: Disciplinary hearings announced regarding Mount Polley Mine breach

A separate discipline hearing panel found Fidel committed several acts of unprofessional conduct.

The panel found Fidel failed to ensure sufficient observation and monitoring of the tailings dam while acting as engineer of record, including failing to ensure sufficient site visits and failing to monitor seepage flows which could provide evidence of a potentially unsafe condition within the embankments.

Fidel also failed to ensure that an excavation left unfilled at the toe of the embankment was assessed to determine what impact it may have on the stability of the embankment, and demonstrated unprofessional conduct by sealing design drawings for the Stage 9 embankment raise without undertaking sufficient review of the design which was not prepared by her, noted EGBC.

A number of other allegations against her were dismissed by the panel. A penalty hearing has not yet been scheduled in her case.

Both disciplinary hearings took place in 2020 and were adjudicated independently by separate disciplinary panels of senior professionals.

A disciplinary hearing is scheduled to proceed in December 2021 for Tom Martin. The allegations in that case have not been proven.

Neither discipline hearing panel made findings as to the cause of the embankment failure, a matter that was separately addressed in reports of the Mount Polley Independent Expert Engineering Investigation and Review Panel and the Chief Inspector of Mines.

In a July 2020 interview, Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch told Black Press Media the company had spent just over $29 million on repairing the tailings dam and over $71 million in remediation of Hazeltine Creek.

READ MORE: Mount Polley mine expected to open by fall 2021: Imperial Metals

Kynoch said in May 2021, Imperial Metals is aiming to re-open the mine in September 2021.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
Read more