A few days ago, I received an unsolicited e-mail about the Bellavista heap leach pad failure. Here is an extract. (I have edited for length, spelling, and a bit of grammar, trying to leave intact the original flavor of the prose while facilitating reading.)

We have lived opposite the Bellavista mine and have observed the development of this project since its beginning in 1996. We always thought it technically improper to build such a mine on top of 3 well known failures(?)(fallas in Spanish). We have observed these fallas - gaps up to 10-feet deep and 3-feet wide, in 1996. One of those (Falla Liz) runs under the heap leach pad; another (Falla Cob), under the waste rock pile.

To make things worse - there are several springs buried under the heap leach pad.

We think these factors are determinant for the collapse of the mine, not supposed heavy rainfalls. In Miramar there has been no rainfall at all from November 06 until May 07! From May to July precipitation has been even less than normal. From August till November rainfalls were normal: as it is well known: every year rainfalls are heavy in October.

The company fails to mention what has been happening at the waste rock pile. The pile is moving downhill as well. At the bottom of the pile there is a public road. There we observed gaps 1,200 ft long running parallel to the western edge of the pile. The waste rock pile itself shows a vertical fracture and a considerable dent.

In the early morning of October 22 the south east corner of the heap leach pad collapsed. The avalanche destroyed the ADR recovery plant and two more buildings. Luckily the night guardian could save himself, running away when he heard the rumbling movements. Next day you could see dozens of men exactly there, at the missing corner, climbing up and down.

Costa Rican authorities parrot the company’s interpretations. Director J.F.Castro in a letter to the Minister of Environment and Mines MINAE) : "…never the situation at the site can be defined as dangerous."

From the beginning the company and the Canadian Embassy had exercised a lot of economic pressure on the Costa Rican government and local authorities. Friends of us had to face lawsuits - which they won in the long run - but with the effect of intimidation on the local community.

You can see more photos of the failure the writer refers to on the Earthworks website. On the basis of what I can see in the photos, it looks like the pad is continuing its movement downhill, crushing buildings along the way, and going who knows where. At least we have official utterances to assure us “never the situation at the site can be defined as dangerous.”

Meanwhile, the company that developed the mine, Glencairn, appears to have or is about to: (a) suffer a share value decline; (b) post a loss; (c) change its management; (d) change its name: (e )abandon Costa Rica; and (f) flee to Nicaragua. At least that is what I read from this news report:

While the company had said repeatedly that there had been no leaks [as a resultof the heap leach pad failure] and that all the cyanide had been removed from the site, the company acknowledged the perception of a possible environmental impact has significantly affected the company’s stock price.

Just before announcing the closure of Bellavista, Glencairn shares traded at 47.5 cents. The stock then fell to a six-year low in August. On Friday, Glencairn shares closed at 25.5 cents on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

“While the suspension of mining operations at the Bellavista Mine due to ground movements had a devastating impact on the company and our operating results in the third quarter, the company will now be starting a new beginning,” president and CEO Peter Tagliamonte said.

He cited recent management and board changes, a restructuring and financing as moves that “will enable the company to focus on core assets, undertake an extensive exploration program on our Nicaraguan properties and look for growth opportunities.”

Stan Bharti was appointed as chairman and other changes were made to the board lineup. As well, the company is seeking shareholder approval for a capital restructuring through a share consolidation on a seven-for-one basis. Glencairn also wants to change the company name to Central Sun Mining Inc.

The shareholder vote takes place Nov. 29.

Lessons learnt: Clearly the Costa Rican people and their government have only themselves to blame if they are ultimately saddled with the mess, the impact, and the cleanup expenses. After all they approved the mine, enjoyed the attention and income while the going was good, and failed utterly to regulate the mine properly.

Clearly the Nicaraguan people and their government have only themselves to blame if they land up in the same place. They deserve it if they approve another Glencairn (Central Sun Mining Inc.) venture without implementing proper procedures. Let them beware taking the unalloyed advice of the Canadian Embassy.

It all boils down to the same message sent to me by my townhouse strata council:

In an earthquake you are on your own. Be prepared.

This is blunt and scary, but totally honest. I have been in three major California earthquakes and know the strata council is correct: you are on your own in an earthquake. And so too, it appears, is a country when it comes to dealing with Canadian mining companies.