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Two engineers disciplined for unprofessional conduct in Mount Polley dam disaster

Engineers and Geoscientists BC disciplinary hearings found engineers guilty of unprofessional conduct, imposed fines
mount-polley
The failure of a tailings pond dam on Aug. 4, 2014 sent tons of water and slurry into Hazeltine Creek, Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake.

Mount Polley engineers disciplined

Arthur Williams

Two engineers linked to the 2014 failure of the tailings storage facility at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley Mine have been disciplined by their professional association for unprofessional conduct.
Engineers and Geoscientists BC announced the ruling against former engineer Stephen Rice and engineer Laura Fidel last Tuesday.
“A discipline hearing panel found that Mr. Rice failed to properly fulfill the role of review engineer, demonstrated unprofessional conduct by allowing a junior engineer who had little experience with embankment design (Laura Fidel, P.Eng.) 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,” a statement issued by the association said.
The disciplinary panel imposed a $25,000 fine on Rice, who also agreed to pay $107,500 in legal costs to Engineers and Geoscientists B.C.
Rice resigned his engineering licence in January 2018 and is no longer permitted to practice as a professional engineer in the province.
A separate disciplinary hearing panel found that Fidel “committed several acts of unprofessional conduct.”
“The panel found that Ms. Fidel failed to ensure sufficient observation and monitoring of the tailings dam while acting as Engineer of Record, including by failing to ensure sufficient site visits and failing to monitor seepage flows which could provide evidence of a potentially unsafe condition within the embankments,” a statement issued by the association said. “Ms. 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.”
Other allegations against Fidel were dismissed by the panel. A hearing has not been scheduled yet to impose penalties against Fidel.
On August 4, 2014, the tailings pond at the Mount Polley copper mine collapsed, sending 20 million cubic metres of water and tailings slurry into Hazeltine Creek, Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake, near the town of Likely. The disaster was one of the largest dam failures in the past 50 years, and cost Imperial Metals $67 million in clean-up costs and lost revenue.
The disciplinary panels did not make findings as to the cause of the embankment failure, which was separately addressed in reports by the Chief Inspector of Mines and Mount Polley Independent Expert Engineering Investigation.
The disciplinary hearings for Rice and Fidel were held in 2020, and each was adjudicated by a separate panel of senior professionals, the association statement said.
A disciplinary panel for a third engineer connected to the dam failure, Todd Martin, is scheduled for later this year.
“These files represent some of the most complex investigations Engineers and Geoscientists BC has undertaken,” a statement released by the association said. “During the course of its investigations, the regulator reviewed thousands of documents including contracts, technical reports and drawings, correspondence, and daily site reports.”
Since the dam failure in 2014, Engineers and Geoscientists BC has issued professional practice guidelines for dam foundations, updated existing guidelines and held professional development seminars.
The full text of the disciplinary decisions can be found online at egbc.ca/Discipline-Notices
-    With files from Nelson Bennett, Business in Vancouver