Sabina confident proposed Nunavut gold mine will go ahead

Company pledges jobs, infrastructure and “best-in-class approach to protecting the environment”


Sabina’s plans for Back River include a chain of open pit and underground mines located about 400 kilometres south of Cambridge Bay. (FILE IMAGE)

Sabina’s plans for Back River include a chain of open pit and underground mines located about 400 kilometres south of Cambridge Bay. (FILE IMAGE)

Sabina Gold and Silver Corp. says it’s confident that any issues and concerns about its Back River gold mine project can and will be addressed.

The mining company says it’s “extremely pleased” with Ottawa’s latest move: Indigenous and Northern Affairs minister Carolyn Bennett sent the project’s final hearing report back to the Nunavut Impact Review Board last week, saying it needs further review.

The project, located in Nunavut’s Kitikmeot region, would include a chain of open pit and underground mines at its Goose property along with a 157-kilometre road from the mine to a port facility and tank farm in Bathurst Inlet.

In June 2016, the NIRB recommended that Ottawa reject the Back River gold mine proposal, citing environmental and social impacts.

But Bennett disagreed and argued Jan. 12 that the NIRB’s findings were premature and did not fully explain proposed mitigation measures. She’s now calling for a more thorough review.

“We are extremely pleased that the minister has determined that the NIRB should reconsider its recommendation regarding the project,” said Sabina’s president and CEO Bruce McLeod in a Jan. 13 release.

“We understand and support the NIRB’s desire for a high level of confidence in the mitigation and management proposed and believe that we have defined programs to address their issues.”

McLeod said the company is now awaiting direction on the additional review process and “look[s] forward to re-engaging with the NIRB.”

“Back River is aiming to be one of the next gold mines in Nunavut providing much desired jobs, training, infrastructure and economic opportunities to the territory with a best in class approach to protecting the environment,” he said.

A large part of the NIRB’s decision to reject the proposal weighed on the project’s potential impact on the region’s dwindling caribou herds, which the board determined could not be mitigated now.

The nearby Bathurst caribou herd was estimated to have a population of 470,000 in 1986, though a 2015 survey showed that number had shrunk to about 16,000.

“Now is not the time to test new, risky mitigation measures when the Bathurst herd has declined to five per cent of its historic high and the species as a whole has been newly assessed as ‘threatened’ in Canada,” said the World Wildlife Fund, in a Jan. 15 statement.

Sabina has argued that the company has received “broad based Inuit support” for the project, citing letters of support from the Kitikmeot Inuit Association and hamlet councils in the region following the NIRB’s recommendation.

But in a letter to the NIRB last fall, the Northwest Territories-based Yellowknives Dene First Nation—which previously submitted its opposition to the project—expressed concerns about Sabina’s attempts to lobby governments following such a decision.

“The Yellowknives Dene First Nation would like to reassure the minister that NIRB is competent and possess[es] the necessary expertise to deliver decisions that are both well-reasoned and fair,” the letter read.

The First Nation accused Sabina of demonstrating contempt for the regulatory process and showing “clear disrespect for both section 35 consultation and the concerns of northerners.”

“If Sabina truly feels the board has erred in their recommendation, then they should seek remedy through judicial review,” the group wrote.

The NIRB has not indicated the next steps in a new review process.

Sabina said last fall that any new hearings would likely add two years to the mine’s projected timeline for development.

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