A disciplinary hearing panel led by Engineers and Geoscientists British Columbia (EGBC) has issued unprofessional conduct notices against two engineers for their role in the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond disaster.
More than 17 million cubic metres of water and 8 million cubic metres of tailings effluent, containing toxic copper and gold mining waste, leaked into lakes and streams on August 4, 2014.
The most severe reprimand from the EGBC was reserved for former engineer Stephen Rice, the most senior engineer at AMEC Foster Wheeler on the project, who resigned his license in 2018. He was found to have left junior engineer Laura Fidel, “who had little experience with embankment design”, as the engineer of record for the mine project, the panel stated in its report.
Rice, who failed to provide critical observation and monitoring of the 40-metre-high tailings dam built on a sloped glacial lake, also 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,” EGBC wrote.
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Rice was fined $25,000 and also agreed to pay $107,500 in legal costs for EGBC.
The cause of the tailing pond breach was separately addressed in reports of the Mount Polley Independent Expert Engineering Investigation and Review Panel and the Chief Inspector of Mines.
Fidel, who has not yet been assigned a penalty for her role in the breach incident, was found to be responsible for the same failures of action as Rice. Additionally, however, she was found to have 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.
The tailings storage facility’s embankments had been built to a slope of 1.3:1, which by all accounts was unusually steep for a rockfill tailings embankment constructed on a soil foundation, the panel found.
Following the Mount Polley Mine breach, EGBC said it has taken steps to improve dam safety in B.C., which included producing professional practice guidelines for site characterization for dam foundations in B.C., updating existing guidelines to confirm the duties of the Engineer of Record, and holding professional development seminars.
A disciplinary hearing is scheduled to proceed later this year for a third individual.