EDMONTON - The berm around the Obed mine coal tailings pond that failed last fall had not been inspected by the province because it was not classified as a dam, a public forum at the University of Alberta was told Thursday.

The berm broke Oct. 31, 2013, sending a wall of water, mud and fine coal particles out of the tailings pond in the largest coal slurry spill in Canada. The spill over ran the banks of two small creeks and left a layer of muddy, contaminated sediment in the creeks and along the banks for five kilometres and ran into the Athabasca River.

At the public forum, U of A water scientists presented the results of their review of mine owner Sherritt’s cleanup plans — a review requested by Alberta Environment in an effort to get and independent review and “the best science” to guide the cleanup.

In response to a question about inspection reports on the berm around the tailings pond, Alberta Environment said no such reports exist as the structure was not classified as a dam and therefore “not subject to regular testing. “

That raised a red flag for some at the forum. Peter Fortuna of Fort McMurray asked if there was a list identifying which structures are considered dams “so we can know in our community” what is being inspected.

Sherritt’s John Schadan, vice-president of operations, said later that the company inspected the berm regularly and found no warning signs. It is too early to say how or why the berm burst — that is still under investigation, he added.

Source: Edmonton Journal - See full article