Huge backlog forces agencies to work together on mining files

Environmental regulators to pool resources


The Nunavut Water Board is moving its technical staff from Gjoa Haven to Cambridge Bay to pool resources with Nunavut's impact review board.

The two regulatory bodies have good reason to work together. Both are already flooded with applications from mining companies, and they expect the workload to only get worst in the next few years.

Dionne Filiatrault, the water board's executive director, told attendees of the Nunavut Mining Symposium in Iqaluit April 9 that her organization has a backlog of more than 190 applications for water licenses.

Difficulty in recruiting qualified staff for the organization's Gjoa Haven office is part of the problem. The water board only has two technical staff hired to review water license applications. It's supposed to be staffed by four.

Meanwhile, demand is only expected to grow, with more applications from big mining projects expected in the next few years. Filiatrault said by 2010, she expects there won‘t be enough weeks in the year to hold all the meetings they're expected to schedule.

One solution, Filiatrault said, would be for the two boards to hold joint hearings and public meetings.

A recurring complaint from mining companies is that they spend many months waiting while the two boards conduct similar reviews.

Holding concurrent meetings would also eliminate some lengthy waits built into the system, in order to allow comment from groups such as Environment Canada and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

Companies complain these groups usually offer similar criticisms to various regulators, and that these comments could be dealt with all at once.

On top of this, companies also wait for months for regulators to receive final approval from the minister of northern affairs.

The end result of all the current waiting, says Lou Covello, president of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, is that "there are too many instances of projects being held in limbo because of the inability to reach decisions."

Meanwhile, only one of Nunavut's regulatory bodies, the water board, has federal legislation that spells out its role, beyond what's described in the land claim agreement.

"That helps foster uncertainty," says Nick Lawson, of the consulting firm Nunami Jacques Whitford Ltd., which is conducting a review of Nunavut's regulatory system for the territorial government.

The water board is still waiting for federal regulations to be drawn up for it. In the meantime it's borrowing regulations from the NWT.

And the front door to Nunavut's regulatory system, the Nunavut Planning Commission, lets almost everyone in. The NPC, which has existed since the early 1990s, is supposed to screen applicants by comparing their plans against a regional land use plan.

But other than in the Kivalliq and North Baffin, no such plans exist, and likely won't for several more years to come.

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