Tourism operators in the town of Likely, B.C. say the Mount Polley mine spill has dealt the area’s reputation a crushing blow.
Business owners say reservations have dropped drastically in the wake of the tailings pond breach. And many of the miners who stay in local hotels and eat in local pubs have disappeared.
"As far as we’re concerned, it’s a disaster that nobody’s doing anything about," says Gary Zorn, owner of Ecotours-BC.
"We have spent our life building this business up and in 20 minutes it goes down the tube and nobody’s doing anything about it? That’s absolute bullshit."
Economic fallout huge
The tailings pond breach on Aug. 4 released 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden sand, contaminating lakes, creeks and rivers in the region.
Zorn says the spill also cut access to areas he depends on for his wilderness adventures. He thinks the province should provide assistance.
Likely Lodge owner Claudine Kadonaga says all their reservations for the past two weeks were cancelled. She also runs a restaurant and pub.
Many hotels in the area cater to both tourists and miners. The union representing Mount Polley mine workers claims nearly four dozen people lost their jobs in the weeks after the spill. Kadonaga says they are missed.
"Economically, we’re feeling it because a lot of the miners are gone," she says.
"Those that are still here are working on limited hours or no hours, and they’re very apprehensive about what sort of income they’re going to have. And so they’re not spending."
Water quality confusion
Interior Health says residents should still take care with drinking water and avoid water that’s cloudy or odorous.
But the Ministry of Environment says water samples taken from Quesnel Lake this week meet federal and provincial guidelines for drinking.
Regardless, business owners say they fear international attention to the mine spill will keep tourists away for a long time to come.
"The fear is that the mass public is getting the wrong impression about the water quality and what the situation is really like in Likely and in the surrounding area," says Jason Ryll, president of the Williams Lake Chamber of Commerce.
"Our main problem is trying to make sure that people understand that Likely is still open for business."