Letter says company lacks water licence for exploration activities

Miramar in breach of environment laws, former NWB employee alleges


Laws designed to protect the environment are routinely being broken at the site of Miramar Mining Corp.'s proposed Doris North gold mine, alleges a letter written by a former employee of the Nunavut Water Board.

The letter was distributed by Dennis Bevington, MP for the Western Arctic and the NDP's northern affairs critic, during a press conference in Ottawa last Thursday.

The letter alleges Miramar violated the Nunavut Waters Act when it buried soil, contaminated from 19,000 litres of fuel spilled in 2004 at the site, near Windy Lake, by not first obtaining a water licence to do so.

The letter also alleges Miramar's current exploration activities are being done without a water license.

And the letter raises concerns about the future mine's operations, stating the company plans to bury tailings – the contaminated byproduct of mining – in drums beneath a lake. The letter also raises questions about how waste water will be treated at the mine site.

Tony Walsh, CEO of Miramar, did not return phone calls before press time this week.

The author of the letter, Joe Murdock, was one of the water board's several technical staff, who all quit their jobs following the firing of their executive director, Philippe di Pizzo, following a meeting held March 23.

At that meeting, board members discussed a letter written by the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, which expressed outrage at how the proposed gold mine has been tied in red tape since 2002. The KIA called for the mine's application to be expedited so that Inuit in the region could benefit from jobs and spin-off contracts.

Earlier, in December, the water board had rejected Miramar's license application, deeming it "ambiguous, inconsistent, and convoluted," and asked it be resubmitted in full.

But the company's fortunes changed following the March 23 meeting.

Following di Pizzo's firing, the board ordered its technical staff to proceed to public meetings for the Doris North license application, the letter states, provoking the mass resignation.

"Our reputation is more valuable than our job," Murdock wrote. "All the members of my technical team resigned in the face of the board's decision to ignore scientific advice and instead bend to political pressure."

"I do believe in responsible and accountable design and operation and I do not participate in the rubber stamping of mines."

On May 3, Miramar submitted a new license application, which the water board deemed complete six days later. A public meeting – the final step before the water board decides whether to approve a water license – will be held Aug. 13 in Cambridge Bay.

But many questions remain about the treatment of contaminated materials at the mine site, Murdock's letter states.

Miramar's plans to bury contaminated soil near Windy Lake was deemed incomplete by water board staff, because the company had not submitted construction drawings, the letter states.

Those plans were approved the day di Pizzo was fired, the letter states, without the approval of technical staff.

Such construction drawings are important, the letter explains, because they allow the engineer who designed them to later be held accountable, should the structure fail.

Such a paper trail is lacking for much of the territory's infrastructure, the letter states.

"I am sure there are many facilities where record drawings are not available to regulators or simply do not exist. Where is the accountability? Where is our government?"

Bevington would not go as far as endorse the conclusion of the letter, which calls on the federal government to step in and replace the entire current membership of the water board.

"I will let the letter speak for itself," he simply said.

In fact, Bevington's speech, which focused on the Northwest Territories, sent the opposite message, as he called for less federal intervention and quicker approvals of recommendations made by northern management boards.

He called on Jim Prentice, the northern development minister, to approve a recommendation made by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board to reject plans to open up the Thelon Basin to uranium mining.

Bevington accused the government of reckless support mining, by backing "the rapacious actions by companies that want to move forward with development, with the support of their political cronies."

Bevington once sat on the impact review board, and said in the past, the government made more prompt decisions than it does now.

During an interview afterwards, Bevington said he was wary of any suggestion that the federal government should intervene in the staffing conflicts of management boards, which are designed to be arms-length from government.

"I'd like to see Nunavut solve its own problems," he said.

He also said he had not spoken with current water board staff, and "I wouldn't base my opinion on one side of the issue."

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