Ottawa sends Nunavut gold mine proposal back to the NIRB
INAC minister says Sabina’s Back River gold project needs more thorough review
The federal government says Sabina Gold and Silver Corp.’s proposed Back River gold mine needs a more robust review before Nunavut can close the door on the potential development of the project.
This week, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada sent the project’s final hearing report back to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, saying it needs further review.
Ottawa’s response comes more than six months after the NIRB rejected the Back River gold mine proposal, in June 2016.
After a four-year environmental screening and assessment process, the board determined the project’s environmental and social impacts were too great to be managed.
But the federal government now says the report’s findings were “premature” and “deficient in respect to some ecosystemic issues.”
Sabina’s plans for Back River include 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.
The pits 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.
Though the region has seen other exploration activity, the NIRB noted the area remains relatively pristine and untouched by large scale impacts.
But Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, said her department can’t be sure.
“There are a number of areas where there was insufficient information presented in the report to support the conclusions of the board, and where further information is required so that the ministers may understand the rationale behind the conclusions presented by the board prior to making a decision on whether the project should proceed,” Bennett wrote in the Jan. 12 letter to the NIRB.
In some areas of Sabina’s proposal, Bennett said the NIRB expressed a lack of confidence or uncertainty when the broader record indicated that many of the hearing participants, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, expressed confidence that measures could mitigate and managed potentially adverse effects.
The biggest issue was the mine’s potential impact on the dwindling Bathurst and Beverly caribou herds in the region.
But Bennett says the report does not fully explain proposed mitigation measures, suggesting there is room for more discussion on the subject.
The letter speaks to other concerns the NIRB raised about terrestrial and marine wildlife adjacent to the proposed project, along with the mine’s potential impact on local water quality.
“This issue thus requires further review to make sure the board’s concerns are well understood by the parties and that, most important, they are given the opportunity to try and address them,” Bennett wrote.
“…We encourage the board to take the opportunity for further reviews or hearings, as necessary, to improve its confidence where significant uncertainty remains.”
Ottawa’s recommendation responds to the wishes of the Government of Nunavut and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, who both expressed conditional support for the proposed mine.
At the end of a public hearing last spring, the GN, the KIA and Sabina had filed a joint submission containing proposed terms and conditions for inclusion in a project certificate, but the Bennett’s letter said there no time at the hearing for stakeholders to properly discuss that submission.
After the NIRB’s June 2016 decision, the GN and the KIA asked the federal government last summer to send the proposal back to the NIRB for reconsideration.
Sabina said last fall that the Back River project could suffer a delay of up to two years if INAC did not accept it as is, but added that “there are no unresolvable issues.”