QIA demands Nanisivik Mine probe
ANNETTE BOURGEOIS & DWANE WILKIN
Claims of unsafe environmental practices at the Nanisivik Mine have prompted the Qikiqtani Inuit Association to ask for a full review of its operation.
The QIA wants the NWT minister of resources, wildlife and economic development, Stephen Kakwi, to conduct a full investigation under the NWT Environmental Rights Act.
QIA Lands Manager Terry Audla said the request was made after two land-claims beneficiaries filed formal complaints with the association about high dust levels and contaminants spillage.
“The level of fear in the community is real,” said Audla.
Mine manager John McConnell was surprised by the QIA action, given it comes just days after the association’s first board meeting of the year held in nearby Arctic Bay.
“We toured the chief land officer and legal counsel around and I met with them, and certainly none of these concerns were ever brought up,” said McConnell. So they kind of caught me blind-sided with this.”
In particular the QIA cites complaints of tailings dust in wildlife habitat downwind of the zinc mine, and allegations that lead and zinc concentrates are released into the environment when ore is loaded onto ships.
“Zinc is how we make our money so it’s obviously in our best interest to make sure an absolutely minimal amount of that gets lost,” responded McConnell.
Some of the concerns stem from the mine’s sewage system, the QIA said. QIA states that the filtration of the system hasn’t been operating since the spring of 1995 and there’s an overflow into a creek and eventually into Strathcona Sound.
The local sewage treatment plant is operated by the GNWT and McConnell said any shortcomings are the responsibility of the Department of Public Works.
As for claims that copper sulfate, xanate and lime are regularly spilled while unloading supplies, McConnell said some spillage is only normal.
“The material comes off in bags and certainly occasionally a bag gets broken but I can assure you they’re all cleaned up immediately,” McConnell said.
The QIA said the eyewitnesses who made the complaints wouldn’t provide their names for fear of losing employment or potential for employment at the 22-year-old mine.
The mine, which opened in 1974, operates in a “gray area” of environmental rules, according to Audla. While he doesn’t expect Nanisivik to operate under the comprehensive guidelines recently signed by BHP Diamonds in the NWT, he wants to see something done about current practices.
“We’d like to see terms and conditions the residents of Arctic Bay are comfortable with.”
This is the first case QIA has launched under the act. The minister has 90 days to report on the progress of the investigation.
“We’re hoping he conducts a full investigation to ensure everything is being done properly,” said Audla.
Nanisivik applied to renew its water licence last September. QIA didn’t make a formal presentation at that meeting about concerns it had heard in the Arctic Bay area because Audla said they weren’t given enough notice.
“QIA felt the notice for the intervenors was lacking,” he said. “We had to look into all the data available and we were given no more than a month’s notice.”