Mine probe at Nanisivik to study environmental practices

But complaints from residents not likely to block mine owners from getting water license.

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

ANNETTE BOURGEOIS

The GNWT will investigate complaints of unsafe environmental practices at the Nanisivik Mine.

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) had called for a formal environmental review of Nansivik Mines Ltd. in response to complaints it received from residents of nearby Arctic Bay.

Emery Paquin, director of the environmental protection services divison of the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development, confirmed the government will launch an investigation.

“Whatever specific investigation we undertake we’ll be answering the questions that they want us to answer,” Paquin said about the scope of the review.

The government will also turn over documents to QIA detailing the mine’s environmental record.

Dust, spillage cited

Arctic Bay residents are concerned about high dust levels, contaminants spillage and pollutants from the mine’s tailings pond getting into the food chain.

“They asked for information about the possible release of pollutants from the mine’s tallings pond, the mill and loading dock areas, as well as Nanisivik’s sewage disposal system,” Paquin said.

QIA had asked the Nunavut Water Board not to renew the mine’s long-term water license until the review is complete, but Nunatsiaq News has learned the license will likely be approved. The mine’s’ new owner, Breakwater Resources Ltd. has been waiting since last fall to have the water license renewed,

The water board is expected to decide next week whether or not to issue a five-year license.

Philippe di Pizzo, executive director of the Nunavut Water Board, said a draft license has already been sent to the mine manager, the Arctic Bay hamlet and QIA for comments.

The Nanisivik Mine overlooks colourful domed-roof houses of the hamlet, sitting at the northern tip of Baffin Island on Strathcona Sound. It is one of only two operating mines owned by Breakwater, which bought the Baffin Island property last year. Breakwater also runs a mine in Honduras.

Tour of operation

A group of 17 delegates attending a mining conference in Iqaluit last weekend were whisked to the site of the zinc-and-lead mine in a Hawker Siddley 748 as guests of the Nunavut Chamber of Commerce.

Several Inuit groups, branches of the federal and territorial governments, along with scientists from Canada and Greenland attended, as did representatives from several mining companies who are active in the North.

Nanisivik, a hamlet of about 350 people, is home to Baffin’s first mine. The base metals operation employs 190. According to mine general manager John McConnell, 18 per cent of Nanisivik’s employees are Inuit.

That’s less than the 30 per cent Inuit-employment target mine owners promised when the operation opened in 1975. Inuit have long protested to mine operators for failing to reach that target.

Herded onto the waiting little yellow school bus, the anxious delegates travelled over the bumpy, gravel road to the mine 10 minutes away.

The airport is located between Nanisivik and the community of Arctic Bay, about 20 minutes away. The federal government built the airstrip as part of its commitment to both the mining operation and northern community development.

Record production

The delegates crowded into a briefing room for a short video on the mine’s history before separating into groups for the tour.

Ron Light, manager of maintenance, boasted about the output of the mine’s power plant ­ 39 million kilowatt hours per year ­ something he says is “critical to the whole operation.”

Since the first load of mineral concentrate was shipped on the Gothic Wasa in 1977, production in the mine has increased, reaching an all-time high last year of 779,100 tonnes. Breakwater expects to be able to mine at Nanisivik even longer than the projected five-year life expectancy left in the mineral reserve.

Nunavut Chamber of Commerce hosted the Iqaluit conference to get some key mining interests together to talk about what the mining industry wants from Nunavut and what regional organizations want from the mining companies.

“It was basically to start some very concentrated dialogue,” said Colleen Dupuis, executive co-ordinator of the symposium.

The chamber also has an interest in promoting mining.

“It’s an industry that has employment potential, but also very far-reaching spinoff effects,” Depuis said. “If there are large mines up here, more businesses have to be developed.”

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