The following parable is a mixture of selected realities, but from multiple sites, mixed with some narrative to create a story. To be clear, this story doesn’t pertain to an actual site, but rather is an amalgamation of sites, stories and memories.
First let me set up an analogy. Like all analogies, it isn’t perfect.
Let’s say you go to a conventional western medicine doctor. You have complaints of a sore back, headaches, trouble sleeping and irritability (don’t go to WEB-MD: I just made this up). The doctor may identify and name the symptoms and attempt to treat each one of the symptoms individually. The doctor may give you sleeping pills, pain meds and something for your mood. Possibly you will be told to try to get some exercise.
Contrast this with a doctor who is seeking to determine the root cause of your complaints. Maybe they are a functional medicine doctor. Maybe they run more tests or talk to you more. This doctor discovers that you have a small, benign growth near your spine that can be easily treated with ultrasound therapy (again, please don’t check this out on WEB-MD: I’m just making this up—it’s an analogy).
So, let’s talk about getting to the root cause.
A tailings site is selected to go into an advanced stage of design once a site selection process results in determining that this is the preferred site. There are the normal geotechnical activities, including a site investigation, lab testing, engineering analyses, and so on. There are difficulties identified along the way, but each difficulty has an engineering solution. So far so good. Engineers are good at finding solutions to problems. It’s what we do.
The site has even more challenges as time goes by, but they can be addressed with additional engineering solutions. Certainly not a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad tailings site. So far.
Slope stability analyses determine that the embankment will require several modifications. And the end-of-construction case for the starter dam indicates further remedies will be needed.
Sometimes, when you are confronted with so many issues, you need to step back and have a look to see if you are taking the traditional western medicine approach to solving your problems. Are you identifying, naming and treating individual symptoms? Sometimes that is a wonderful approach. But are all of these solutions just making matters worse?
Sometimes it’s necessary to see if you can identify the root cause of your troubles. Or, to simply take a breath, step back, and make sure you’re not standing so close to the forest that you can’t see the trees.
Sometimes the site really is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad tailings site, and you have to walk away from it.
To take another wild turn, we can remember what is said in editing literature. There are many who have been attributed comments like this, but I like Stephen King’s version. King wrote, “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” It can be very hard, but some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad tailings sites really are darlings that need to be killed.