Mining firm defends caribou monitoring plan against Nunavut critics
“We don’t want to commit to something we can’t do”
CAMBRIDGE BAY — Participants at a Nunavut Impact Review Board hearing in Cambridge Bay hammered Sabina Gold and Silver Corp. for most of April 26 over how its proposed four-mine complex and 157-kilometre winter road can co-exist with two caribou herds that migrate through that area of western Nunavut.
The final regulatory hearing for the Back River gold mine, which got underway April 25, devoted nearly the entire day of April 26 to the company’s monitoring and mitigation plans for its Goose property, located 400 km south of Cambridge Bay and 520 km north of Yellowknife.
After presenting information about its many programs and actions designed to reduce impacts on caribou on April 25, Sabina fielded questions April 26 about its “adaptive management” plan for wildlife, which would see a staged response to mitigate damage to caribou from animals in the Beverly or Bathurst herds, which might be spotted close to the mine site by observers, cameras or via satellite collars.
These responses include actions such as stopping helicopter flights and blasting — but they do not include a complete shut-down of the proposed gold mine’s operations.
A total mine closure had been part of an early monitoring and mitigation plan, said Stephen Atkinson, the Government of Nunavut’s former director of wildlife and environmental protection, now a consultant, who wanted to know if that option is still planned.
But Matthew Pickard, the vice president of Sabina Gold and Silver Corp., said it’s not feasible to shut down all mining operations if calving or post-calving caribou show up on site.
“We don’t want to commit to something we can’t do,” Pickard said during the portion of the hearing that covered presentations from Sabina on the mine’s terrestrial impacts.
Sabina does have a staged plan to stop noise-making activities like blasting, Pickard said, adding that’s beyond what other northern mining companies do.
Sabina also maintained that the footprint of its proposed mine on caribou is extremely small, only 1/10,000 of the Beverly herd’s range, for example — although the NIRB said it would want to know more about the possible impact on caribou that would be created by future exploration activities.
Representatives from the Government of the Northwest Territories also questioned the ability of Sabina’s management plan to react to sudden shifts in the ranges of the caribou herds.
And they challenged the accuracy of satellite signals from the 50 collared animals in the Bathurst herd, whose numbers have dropped from half-a-million strong 30 years ago to as few as 20,000 animals today.
In his comment, GNWT biologist Jan Adamczewski said the collars would tell you “where there are Bathurst caribou, but it won’t tell you where all of them are.”
Several others asked questions that suggested Sabina’s caribou response plan is too reactive, and they wanted to know how the company planned to cope with caribou migrating across a road or in the path of an incoming airplane.
The GN and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association also raised concerns about the impact on wildlife from noise during various mining activities.
Among the other topics discussed April 26:
• economic benefits, “deemed highly beneficial” by Sabina: an estimated 65 jobs worth $29.6 million for the Kitikmeot region during the four-year construction period and 194 jobs with average salary of $114,949 for next 10 years of operations, with Sabina saying it will work with TMAC Resources Inc. on a job creation plan for the region; and,
• archeology, including 269 sites including many with stone circles, inuksuit, stone ovals and caches, of which 21 would be affected by the mine.
“It’s important for us to preserve those archaeological sites because those are out history,” said NIRB board member Allen Maghagak in response to Sabina’s presentation on these sites.
Maghagak is one of four NIRB board members, including Phillip Kadlun, Marjorie Kaviq Kaluraq and Henry Ohokannoak, attending the NIRB hearing, which is presided over by NIRB Chairperson Elizabeth Copland.
Copland called the six-day hearing and community roundtable “the final step in a very thorough review.”
If Sabina’s project is allowed to proceed, the NIRB will also recommend terms and conditions to be included in a project certificate — conditions meant to mitigate potential socio-economic and environmental effects.
The hearing, which started April 25, continues until April 30, with a public roundtable scheduled from April 28 to April 30.
Next on the delayed agenda are presentations from the GN, KIA, GNWT, the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation, North Slave Métis Alliance, Yellowknife Dene First Nation and federal departments.
You can read more about these later on Nunatsiaqonline.ca.