British Columbia

Human remains wash ashore in Nechako River flooding, Rio Tinto Alcan blamed

As flooding in northern B.C. continues to inundate communities along the Nechako River, human remains are washing ashore and a mining company is being blamed.

Cheslatta First Nation wants answers from Rio Tinto Alcan as Nechako River and tributaries rise

Human remains from a Cheslatta Carrier First Nation cemetery are washing up on the shores of B.C.'s Nechako River as it reaches dangerously high levels not seen since 2007, when flood waters broke a 200-year-old record.

Mike Robertson, the nation's senior policy advisor, says the social costs of the flood are high for the small community south of Burns Lake. 

"There's the cost of ... finding the leg of your grandmother, or your uncle, or your cousin. I've got bones sitting on my desk right now," Robertson told Daybreak North's Carolina de Ryk

"When people go down there and they find their relatives, and these aren't ancient graves, these are graves as late as 1952, people are still alive that are directly related. They don't know who these people are."

Cheslatta members have been collecting human remains from the shores of the Cheslatta River since Monday.

'This is bullshit'

Robertson says mining company Rio Tinto Alcan has mismanaged the Kenney Dam reservoir, causing the painful situation and residents are extremely frustrated.

"No attention [is] paid to what we're going through. It makes me angry and the Cheslatta people extremely upset and this is bullshit," he said. 

"B.C. gave the Nechako River to a private corporation without any thought of the compounding damage that it would do."

Rio Tinto Alcan controls the release of water from its Kenney Dam reservoir through the Skins Lake spillway, and that affects the Nechako River and its tributaries.

The Kenney Dam is a hydroelectric dam that was built in the early 1950s to power an aluminum smelter in Kitimat.

'We feel helpless'

Meanwhile, downriver in the District of Vanderhoof, hundreds of resident volunteers have scrambled to sandbag the Nechako River, to protect dozens of homes at risk of flooding.

In the District of Vanderhoof, city staff and resident volunteers have scrambled to sandbag the Nechako River. Still, six homes are flooded and dozens more could follow suit. (Audrey McKinnon/CBC)

Mayor Gerry Thiessen is looking for answers from the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rio Tinto Alcan.

"[We feel] very helpless ... We don't have the decision-makers come to our community," he said.

"There's a lot of anxiousness."

Thiessen says he has been told to expect severe fluctuations in water levels well into the month of June.

Rio Tinto Alcan responds

Rio Tinto Alcan has responded to residents' criticism, issuing a statement explaining how it has been controlling the release of water from its Kenney Dam reservoir through the Skins Lake spillway.

"This winter, the water level and inflow into the reservoir was normal until February and it was not until then that water flow levels into the reservoir increased significantly above average.

"At this time Rio Tinto Alcan began spilling 50 per cent more water than normal to try and mitigate risk of flooding in the spring.

"As soon as the river was free of ice, Rio Tinto Alcan increased spillway flow again in our continual efforts to mitigate potential risks".

Emergency Management B.C. is warning local residents to stay clear of unstable riverbanks and swiftly flowing water.

Rio Tinto Alcan will hold a community meeting on Thursday at 7 p.m. PT at the VH Friendship Centre in Vanderhoof.

To hear the full interview, listen to the audio labelled: Human remains wash ashore in flood as anger mounts over river management.

with files from Audrey McKinnon


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