Nunatsiaq News
EDITORIAL: -none- August 20, 2004 - 3:02 pm

NIRB’s no pushover


In refusing this month to issue a certificate to Miramar Mining Corp. for its Doris North gold mine, the Nunavut Impact Review Board has made one thing clear: it’s no pushover.

Until now, anti-mining advocates have been skeptical about the board’s willingness to get tough with mining companies. Some have intimated, in whispered, off-the-record comments, that the review board is a lightweight body, dominated by Kitikmeot-based business interests, likely to rubber-stamp any development application that comes its way.

But this group of so-called lightweights has now told Miramar that its plans for the Doris North gold mine aren’t good enough. They’ve told Miramar to produce a plan for monitoring and protecting wildlife, to provide more information about tailings disposal, to co-operate more on socio-economic issues, along with other demands. At the same time, they’ve invited the company to re-apply.

There’s no doubt that this decision comes as a nasty surprise for Miramar, a small, hard-up firm based in Vancouver that also owns two dying gold mines in Yellowknife. This past May, Miramar’s CEO, Tony Walsh, bragged to an audience of stock analysts that, “We are not aware of any issue that’s been raised to date that would prevent us from permitting the Doris North.”

But the company’s stock price is tanking already. This Tuesday, the company’s shares dropped 18 per cent, as nervous investors reacted to the uncertainty created by the review board’s decision, in spite of Tony Walsh’s declaration that Miramar is already revising its permit application.

The small Doris North project is just the first step in Miramar’s step-by-step, pay-as-you-go plan for developing its Hope Bay sites in the western Kitikmeot region. They want to start with a small two-year mine at Doris North, whose small but rich ore body is expected to generate a whopping 136 per cent return on investment, and $69 million in income. Miramar would then use that cash to develop at least two bigger sites in the area.

So by imposing a delay on Doris North, the review is stalling a whole chain of related mining projects — not the sort of action you would expect from a pushover board.

This, in turn, sends a clear message to all the groups and individuals who are likely to get involved in environmental assessments of other Nunavut-based projects, such as the Bathurst Inlet Port and Road Project, and the proposed Meadowbank gold mine.

Remember when environmentalists and pro-mining advocates argued with each other last year about who should control an environmental assessment of the Bathurst Inlet Port and Road Project?

Project supporters — including virtually all of Nunavut’s political organizations — said the review should be done by the Nunavut Impact Review Board: a “made-in-Nunavut review.” Project skeptics, on the other hand, said the review should be done by a federally-appointed panel - saying the review board doesn’t have the capacity to do the job. Some quietly suggested that the board would cave in to Kitikmeot business interests.

This week, the review board proved them wrong. It’s a decision that should inspire confidence in those who want a thorough probe of the Bathurst Inlet project, and others like it.

But the various board and government departments that comprise Nunavut’s convoluted system for protecting the environment face big challenges for the future.

It’s still a confused, bewildering system, stuffed with virtually anonymous bureaucratic agencies. Few people actually understand it, including people in the mining industry and the Inuit people whose interests it’s supposed to protect. Miramar waited 26 months to learn that their plan isn’t good enough. That’s far too much time. JB

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