Mount Polley: Regulator Announces Findings of Unprofessional Conduct
Burnaby, BC (August 10, 2021) – Engineers and Geoscientists British Columbia, the regulatory and licensing body for the professions of engineering and geoscience in BC, has announced disciplinary findings against two individuals connected with the 2014 breach of the tailings storage facility at the Mount Polley Mine.
Former engineer Stephen Rice and engineer Laura Fidel, P.Eng. were found to have demonstrated unprofessional conduct in the course of their work at the Mount Polley Mine.
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.
In addition to other penalties, the Discipline Hearing Panel imposed a $25,000 fine, the maximum available at the time. 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.
A separate Discipline Hearing Panel found that Laura Fidel, P.Eng. 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. 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 dismissed by the panel. A penalty hearing has not yet been scheduled in Ms. Fidel’s case.
Neither Discipline Hearing Panel made findings as to the cause of the embankment failure, a matter that was separately addressed in reports of the Mount Polley Independent Expert Engineering Investigation and Review Panel and the Chief Inspector of Mines.
As the provincial engineering and geoscience regulator, 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.
Disciplinary hearings for Mr. Rice and Ms. Fidel took place in 2020. Each hearing was adjudicated independently by separate disciplinary panels of senior professionals. A disciplinary hearing is scheduled to proceed later this year for a third individual. The allegations in that case have not been proven.
These files 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.
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 currently updating its guidelines on legislated dam safety reviews and has 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.
More information on the investigation and disciplinary process overseen by Engineers and Geoscientists BC can be found here.
Engineers and Geoscientists British Columbia is the regulatory and licensing body for the engineering and geoscience professions in BC. To protect the public, we maintain robust standards for entry to the professions, and comprehensive regulatory tools to support engineers and geoscientists in meeting professional and ethical obligations. If these standards are not met, we take action through our investigation and discipline process.