There’s still ice in Nunavut bay in May, hunters tell Agnico Eagle
Review hearing for Meliadine mine’s groundwater dumping plans starts Sept. 12
Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. is looking for clearance from the Nunavut Impact Review Board to dump treated groundwater into Melvin Bay outside Rankin Inlet between May and October starting next year, but the local hunters and trappers group says the mining company needs to double-check its understanding of the area’s ice-free season first.
That’s because—while Agnico Eagle says it won’t do any under-ice discharge of saline effluent trucked to the bay from the Meliadine mine—there’s usually still ice there until the end of June.
“If discharge is allowed to happen prior to open water conditions, access by Inuit to this traditional use area will be restricted or impossible,” the Kangiqliniq Hunters and Trappers Organization said in a letter of response to Agnico Eagle published on Aug. 22 by the NIRB.
Groundwater dumping dates would be more realistic if they started sometime between June 17 and July 10, the KHTO said, so that “seal hunting, goose hunting, egg picking and fishing” aren’t interrupted.
The KHTO letter is one of a string of responses given to the NIRB by Inuit groups and government departments over Agnico Eagle’s proposed plan to expand dumping of treated groundwater from underground pits at Meliadine.
Groundwater is a byproduct of digging below permafrost. Meliadine is a gold mine located about 24 kilometres outside the central Nunavut community of Rankin Inlet.
These submissions will be aired and the project reviewed at a NIRB hearing set for Sept. 12 and Sept. 13 in Rankin Inlet.
The company already has the go-ahead—given in 2015—to dump groundwater into Meliadine Lake, but now it needs more space, Agnico Eagle says. This discharge of saline effluent could continue for the next 14 years.
Even if Agnico Eagle scales back its proposed summer dumping schedule to fit current ice conditions, the KHTO says that other projections found in Agnico Eagle’s suggested addendum to its project certificate will also need to be adjusted.
These include the number of trucks that would deliver groundwater daily to a treatment site and then to Melvin Bay, as well as the amount of effluent that would be discharged each day. Right now, the company is saying that trucking would double current summer traffic on an access road from Meliadine, which is used by the public as well as the mine.
The KHTO and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. say they are worried that dust from that work would create miserable conditions for residents of Rankin Inlet, where there is already a problem with excess dust.
“The planned increase in haul truck traffic, while incremental, will exacerbate an already increasing community concern,” NTI wrote to the NIRB.
In its submission, the Government of Nunavut wanted to make sure that Agnico Eagle is prepared to shut down operations for up to a week during caribou migration season, if animals are in the area.
Should that halt in trucking happen, the GN recommended that the company have a contingency plan for storing groundwater.
Agnico Eagle has space at Meliadine to hold groundwater over the winter season in underground ponds.
The expansion would include building a new disposal facility, which would include water-storage tanks and a pipeline. Water would be pumped into the bay through a diffuser set 20 metres below the water surface, the company said in a plain-language proposal submitted to the NIRB.
A letter from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans asked whether these shore measurements are done at low or high tide.
“Agnico Eagle plans to treat the water so it is safe and to monitor the water and the animals to confirm that it is safe to discharge,” the mining company said in its submission dated from February. “Discharge will only be undertaken when there is no ice on Melvin Bay.”
If the pipe was to break or spill, the saline effluent is not hazardous, Agnico Eagle said.
The mining company said it has done studies to make sure the water would not negatively affect the marine environment. But Environment and Climate Change Canada said in its review of the Agnico addendum that calculations about salinity levels in the effluent are incorrect.
A submission by Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada also expressed concern with errors in Agnico Eagle’s updated proposal to the NIRB, saying that “errors, omissions and inconsistencies” in the project addendum “draw into question” the quality of the company’s feasibility assessment.
The temperature of the groundwater is one concern raised by the Kivalliq Inuit Association, who said that water kept in trucks or surface ponds could be too warm to put into the bay.
“The temperature assumptions for discharging the saline effluent may not capture the range of temperatures that will occur in the marine environment,” the KIA submission read.
Agnico Eagle has until Aug. 28 to file a response to submissions in advance of the Rankin Inlet community hearing.