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Scientists digging in Wells where miners once did

Soil testing underway in Wells to spot contamination
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The water isn’t the problem at Jack Of Clubs Lake, it’s the dirt at one end.

There may be other areas of problem dirt.

A hive of tests is now underway, to go with the spotty testing that has been done in the past on the lake and the Village of Wells where it lays as one of the popular features for tourists and locals alike.

Northern Health has already seen enough results at the early stages of the process to issue a warning for the end of the lake that most resembles a beach. The reason for this compromised condition is, it is where early 20th century mines pushed their tailings. It created a pleasant shoreline, but with contaminated soil that now lies partially under the surface of the water.

Other parts are above ground and will also be tested for safety.

“Northern Health advises the public to avoid contact with sandy areas and sediment in wading areas,” said the statement issued on June 19. “Due to historic mine tailings contamination, Northern Health advises the public to avoid contact with sandy areas and sediment in wading areas along the shoreline of Jack of Club Tailings Beach and Visitor Centre Beach in the District of Wells.”

Large warning signs were also posted at the problem spots.

Mayor Ed Coleman is pleased that the Province of British Columbia is making the issue a provincial priority, so the village, that has long known of the potential issues, can have full answers so as to take proper steps to fix them.

“The testing regimen for that whole area is $1-million,” Coleman said. “Last week there were 12 scientists and a whole bunch of equipment, and they started the process: soil sampling, water testing, drilling, groundwater testing, sediment testing. They want it to be definitive.”

These scientists will be testing all around the region to establish baseline data, as well. The entire process is expected to take about two years.

“The lake water is fine. It has been tested extensively,” Coleman said. “It’s the lakeshore sediment they believe is not fine. They filled in a lot of the lake back in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. They filled in probably a third of the lake. The lake used to go right into the town and then it outflowed through the town.”

Northern Health explained in their advisory that “Mine tailings can contain arsenic, lead, and other metals which can be harmful to health through contact, ingestion, or if disturbed. The public is advised to not play or recreate on, or disturb the ground or sediment, and to not swim in, or have contact with, the lake located within the advisory areas. Until further notice, use lake access points outside the advisory area.”

Coleman said there were many access points to the lake, so recreation would continue unabated, just not in the areas in question.

The solution may be that a membrane is applied to the tailings soils to bury it safely, but that might be too cost prohibitive. Another solution is to cordon the tailings areas off and build better recreation spots in the safe areas. Coleman said those decisions would be made with clear data in hand.

“I’m just really thankful they are being definitive on this. It was time,” said Coleman. “We are going to get answers and there is going to be mitigation.”

READ MORE: District of Wells signs MOU with Osisko Development

READ MORE: Bonanza Ledge mine near Wells to expand

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Northern Health has issued a contamination alert for the area around Jack Of Clubs tailings lake in Wells. (Northern Health handout)