Nunavut board says no to western Kitikmeot gold mine

NIRB says Sabina’s Back River gold project could create damage to caribou that cannot be mitigated


This map shows the location of Sabina's proposed Back River gold project. (FILE IMAGE)

This map shows the location of Sabina’s proposed Back River gold project. (FILE IMAGE)

Sabina Gold and Silver Corp. managers listen to community reports supporting their Back River gold mine project April 20 at the Nunavut Impact Review Board final hearing on the project, held in Cambridge Bay. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Sabina Gold and Silver Corp. managers listen to community reports supporting their Back River gold mine project April 20 at the Nunavut Impact Review Board final hearing on the project, held in Cambridge Bay. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

After a four-year environmental screening and assessment process, the Nunavut Impact Review Board has said no to Sabina Gold and Silver Corp.’s Back River gold mine proposal.

The review board, in a 347-page final hearing report released June 15 at about 6 p.m. Cambridge Bay time, recommends the Back River gold mine project, called Hannigayok in Inuinnaqtun, “not proceed at this time.”

That’s because the mining project would produce environmental and social impacts that cannot be managed right now, said the board, which heard from many Nunavut and Northwest Territories stakeholders at a public hearing and community roundtable held April 25 to April 30 in Cambridge Bay.

“On the basis of the potential for significant adverse ecosystemic and socio-economic effects in Nunavut and also in the Northwest Territories that in the Board’s view cannot be adequately managed and mitigated, the proposed Back River Gold Mine Project should not proceed at this time,” the NIRB said.

The NIRB also took into account the project’s “cumulative and transboundary effects in the Northwest Territories” in its final recommendation at the end of the board’s lengthy final hearing report.

Sabina’s plans for Back River included a chain of open pit and underground mines at its Goose property, located 400 kilometres south of Cambridge Bay and 520 km north of Yellowknife, which would have operated for at least 10 years and involved filling, damming or draining lakes and streams and building a 157-km road from the mine to a seasonal port facility and tank farm in Bathurst Inlet.

The board had heard that although the area proposed for development had already been subject to exploration activity for years, “it remains relatively pristine and untouched by large scale and potentially permanent impacts.”

The board said many stakeholders at the hearings presented its members with “a high level of concern” for the project’s potential impact on caribou herds that migrate through Nunavut and the NWT.

“In addition, the Board heard of the devastating effects that harvesting bans and other management measures are having on communities in the Northwest Territories,” the NIRB said.

On those issues, the NIRB heard submissions from the Tłıchǫ Government, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, the Łutsel K’e Dene First Nation, the North Slave Métis Alliance, six individual Dene communities and the Government of the Northwest Territories.

Sabina had withdrawn the sensitive George area — which overlaps with caribou calving and post-calving areas — from consideration within NIRB’s assessment.

But the board heard that according to traditional Aboriginal knowledge, caribou ranges can change significantly over time with little warning.

They also noted that the population of the Bathurst caribou herd has crashed in recent years.

“In the Board’s view, these current conditions underline the need to approach the potential development of this Project in accordance with a very stringent and rigorous precautionary approach,” the NIRB said.

The project’s effects were also uncertain on other terrestrial wildlife, fish, and freshwater and the marine environments, and that there could also be adverse socio-economic effects associated with these ecosystemic effects, the NIRB said.

A community roundtable nonetheless supported the project during the April hearings because of the jobs the mine could offer.

However, many other intervenors had slammed the project.

Federal agencies reported on the potential risks for caribou and other wildlife species including muskoxen, wolverines, bears, seals, birds and fish, and to the environment — within an uncertain future created by climate change and warming permafrost.

The project’s impact would be felt on the nine species of risk found in and around the mine, including the Dolphin and Union caribou, peregrine falcons, grizzly bears, wolverines, polar bears and red-necked phalarope shore birds.

The Government of Nunavut had asked for stringent monitoring on caribou, polar bear, grizzly bears and muskox and wolvervine.

The NIRB didn’t close the door forever to mining in Bathurst area, saying it “recognizes that in future there may be increased certainty regarding effects, predictions and mitigation measures and the Proponent may then choose to resubmit the Back River Gold Mine project proposal for consideration.”

The board has conveyed that opinion in a letter to Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, copied to a long list of federal cabinet ministers and Inuit leaders, including Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna.

But in its final hearing report, it’s clear the NIRB had reservations about the project and its promoters “regarding the existing financial capacity of the Proponent to bring the Project forward in a manner that reflects all of the commitments made as well as continuing to fulfill the mitigation, monitoring, and “adaptive management that would have been required to carry out the Project.”

You can download a PDF copy of the final hearing report from this link or from the copy embedded below.

(With files from Jim Bell and Jane George)

Final Hearing Report, Back River Gold Project by NunatsiaqNews

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