Western Nunavut gold project gets a second chance
Sabina to bring “significant new information” on Back River to second round of hearings in Cambridge Bay
You can expect to hear a lot of detailed—and even nitpicky—discussions when the Nunavut Impact Review Board, federal and territorial agencies, Inuit organizations and Métis and Dene groups from the Northwest Territories, come back to Cambridge Bay this week for the regulator’s second public review on Sabina Gold and Silver Corp.’s Back River gold mine project.
The four-day review, from May 31 to June 3, marks the first time in 20 years that the NIRB has been asked to reconsider a decision on a project and go back into another review process.
But the new hearings and roundtable are taking place at the behest of the federal government.
There was “insufficient information” to support the NIRB’s decision last June to reject the project as well as a need for “further information,” Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, said this past January.
Now the NIRB is likely to undertake an even more vigorous review of the proposed gold project, which it had determined would produce environmental and social impacts too great to be mitigated.
Last June, in a 347-page final hearing report, the NIRB said the Back River gold mine project, called Hannigayok in Inuinnaqtun, should “not proceed at this time.”
But Back River got a second chance after INAC sent the project’s final hearing report back to the NIRB, saying the project needed a more robust review before Nunavut could close the door on its potential development.
INAC said the report’s findings were “premature” and “deficient in respect to some ecosystemic issues.”
“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 the NIRB.
Since then, Sabina has submitted 1,500 new points to address the NIRB’s concerns which contain “significant new information,” said Matthew Pickard, Sabina’s vice president for environment and sustainability, in an interview from Toronto.
Pickard added that he was, “happy to have the opportunity to go back and discuss their concerns further.”
At a May 24 pre-hearing technical meeting with the NIRB, participants agreed on nearly all points except some on caribou, he said.
Sabina’s planned caribou protection measures came under heavy criticism during the first hearings and roundtable held last April, with the governments of Nunavut and the NWT saying the company needed to do more and act more quickly to protect barren ground caribou herds.
Later, Pickard said Sabina was willing to go even further in its monitoring and mitigation measures, which would include a staged shut-down of operations if the mine site interfered with calving grounds.
The hearings will now go into more detail on caribou as well as terrestrial wildlife, freshwater aquatic environment, marine environment, water quality, and climate and meteorology, already discussed at length during the first hearing and community roundtables.
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 operate 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.
All that infrastructure would be created on lands through which the Bathurst and Beverly caribou herds migrate.
In recent years, the population of the Bathurst herd has plunged to as few as 20,000 animals, down from nearly half a million.
Pickard said a positive recommendation for the project could see work get underway in 2018.
The hearing and roundtable, which are open to all members of the public, will take place at Cambridge Bay’s Luke Novoligak Community Hall during the following dates and times:
• May 31 (technical hearing) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m;
• June 1 (technical hearing) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 6:30 to 9 p.m;
• June 2 (community roundtable) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 6:30 to 9 p.m; and,
• June 3 (community roundtable) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.