Mount Polley Investigation Concludes; Three Engineers Disciplined
Engineers and Geoscientists British Columbia, the regulatory and licensing body for the professions of engineering and geoscience in BC, has concluded its disciplinary proceedings against three individuals in relation to their work at the Mount Polley Mine. The multi-year investigations were initiated following the breach of the mine’s tailings storage facility on August 4, 2014.
Three current and former engineers involved at the Mount Polley Mine Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) face a range of penalties arising from the disciplinary proceedings:
- Former engineer Todd Martin,
- Engineer Laura Fidel, P.Eng., and
- Former engineer Stephen Rice.
Further details on each case can be found below.
Engineers and Geoscientists BC is responsible for establishing and upholding standards of professional practice and ethical conduct for the professions. If the regulator determines that an engineer or geoscientist may have breached these standards, it takes action through a comprehensive investigation and discipline process.
These cases represent some of the most complex investigations Engineers and Geoscientists BC has undertaken. During the course of its investigations, the regulator reviewed thousands of documents including contracts, technical reports and drawings, correspondence, and daily site reports.
“This marks the final chapter in a long and difficult story for our province and our professions,” said Heidi Yang, P.Eng., CEO of Engineers and Geoscientists BC. “Over the past several years, our focus has been on delivering a comprehensive, rigorous, and fair process, and we’re pleased to be able to provide the public with these results. The conclusion of these cases, combined with resources we’ve developed to improve dam safety, will strengthen our professions and our province’s environmental safeguards.”
Following the breach, Engineers and Geoscientists BC took actions to improve dam safety in BC, which included producing professional practice guidelines for site characterization for dam foundations in BC, updating existing guidelines to confirm the duties of the “Engineer of Record,” and holding professional development seminars. Engineers and Geoscientists BC is also currently updating its guidelines on legislated dam safety reviews.
Engineers and Geoscientists BC has also recently been granted the authority to regulate engineering and geoscience firms – a new regulatory responsibility that will enhance its ability to protect the public and address standards of conduct and practice at the organizational level.
“The ability to regulate firms that provide engineering and geoscience services is an important regulatory tool that will enable us to improve public safety and confidence in the engineering and geoscience professions, ultimately resulting in stronger regulation and a safer British Columbia,” said Yang. “Our robust regulatory framework will enhance public protection by introducing established standards of practice for all firms engaging in professional engineering and geoscience, which will be enforced through regular audits to ensure compliance.”
In the course of these disciplinary proceedings, Engineers and Geoscientists BC did not make allegations or findings as to the cause of the embankment failure. That matter was separately addressed in reports of the Mount Polley Independent Expert Engineering Investigation and Review Panel and the Chief Inspector of Mines.
These cases were conducted under the legislation in place at the time the engineering work was undertaken (the Engineers and Geoscientists Act), which allowed for a maximum fine of $25,000. That legislation has since been repealed and replaced by the Professional Governance Act, which allows for fines of up to $100,000 for individuals and $250,000 for firms.
A disciplinary proceeding relating to the conduct of former engineer Todd Martin has been resolved by way of a Consent Order. From March 2011 to December 2012, Mr. Martin was the senior geotechnical engineer responsible for the geotechnical engineering work at the Mount Polley Mine TSF. In the Consent Order, Mr. Martin admitted to some of the allegations that aspects of his engineering work were not consistent with prudent engineering practice, including his failure to recommend drilling from the 2011 embankment crest into soils under the footprint of the TSF perimeter embankment to improve the characterization of embankment foundation soils. Mr. Martin further admitted that he failed to make a record of important field observations in 2011, a matter which constitutes unprofessional conduct.
Mr. Martin agreed to pay a fine in the amount of $25,000 and $69,000 toward the legal costs of Engineers and Geoscientists BC. Mr. Martin ceased practising engineering in 2018 and resigned his engineering license in January 2020 and accordingly is no longer permitted to practise professional engineering or geoscience in British Columbia. Should he ever re-apply for registration, the Consent Order identifies the steps Mr. Martin will have to take to successfully be licensed.
Laura Fidel, P.Eng.
A Discipline Hearing Panel found that Laura Fidel, P.Eng., committed several acts of unprofessional conduct in relation to her engineering work at the Mount Polley Mine TSF. 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. 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. A number of other allegations against Ms. Fidel were found by the Panel not to be proved and were dismissed.
In its penalty decision, the Panel ordered Ms. Fidel’s registration as a professional engineer be suspended for a period of two months. In addition, Ms. Fidel was ordered to complete three education courses relating to tailings management, tailings facility design and operation, and engineering management for mine geowaste facilities.
A Discipline Hearing Panel found that former engineer Stephen Rice committed several acts of unprofessional conduct in relation to his engineering work at the Mount Polley Mine TSF. The 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.
The Panel imposed a $25,000 fine, and Mr. Rice also agreed to pay $107,500 in legal costs to Engineers and Geoscientists BC. Mr. Rice resigned his engineering licence in January 2018 and is no longer permitted to practise professional engineering in British Columbia. Should he ever re-apply for registration, he would face a two-year suspension and would need to comply with remedial and supervisory measures before he could successfully be licensed.
The full text of the disciplinary results for Todd Martin, Laura Fidel, P.Eng., and Stephen Rice can be found at egbc.ca/Discipline-Notices.
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