Agnico Eagle seeks amendment to make emergency water release into Meliadine Lake
Kivalliq Inuit Association says plans should face public hearing before approval
(Updated, 2 p.m.)
Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.’s plan to release stored water into Meliadine Lake deserves a public airing before being approved, says the Kivalliq Inuit Association.
The company filed an emergency application on March 24 with the Nunavut Water Board, requesting an amendment to the water licence for its Meliadine mine, located near Rankin Inlet, to allow an emergency discharge into the nearby lake.
An emergency application, if approved, would not involve a public meeting. Agnico Eagle is asking for its application to be approved by May 1.
But the KIA says that Agnico Eagle hasn’t demonstrated there’s enough urgency to skip holding a public meeting on the matter. And the association said it would “strongly express support” for those in Rankin Inlet who oppose the release into Meliadine Lake.
The KIA describes the water to be discharged as saline, or salty. But Agnico Eagle, in a statement on Friday, April 17, said that’s not the case.
“It is important to note that this water is not saline nor is it process water. It is water that is collected on site from rain and snow melt,” Agnico Eagle said in an email to Nunatsiaq News.
The mining company said the emergency amendment request to the water board was seen as the best way to deal with this water, which has a higher-than-normal amount of mineral concentrations and solids.
Right now, the containment pond is nearly full and will not be able to accept the upcoming melt water, so it needs to be emptied during the 2020 discharge season starting at the onset of melt, the company said.
That’s why the company said there is not enough time to go through the regular amendment process, which is typically a process that lasts nine to 12 months.
Agnico Eagle is requesting an emergency amendment to its water licence from the Nunavut Water Board to discharge the accumulated water for 2020 only.
“The emergency amendment process was proposed by the Nunavut Water Board as an option to pursue as the regular timeline to amend our permit would not meet our required discharge schedule before this year’s freshet began,” Agnico Eagle said.
Discharging this water would not have negative effects on the environment of Meliadine Lake, the company said.
“We want to reassure the community that we are working in good faith throughout this situation with a view to working towards the best outcome for Nunavut waters and the environment,” the company said.
“We remain committed to being transparent and to keeping our stakeholders informed as the process continues to evolve.”
In an April 15 news release, the KIA said the company hasn’t shown the water issue warrants being treated as an emergency.
“Agnico Eagle says that no emergency will occur if they are permitted to release the water starting in May 2020. They have also said that they do not think the saline water will damage the water or harm fish and other aquatic life,” the KIA said in its news release.
“So far, the information provided by Agnico Eagle has not convinced KIA that the discharge of saline water will not impact fish and other aquatic life, or that removing all of the water from the containment pond is necessary to avoid an emergency.”
On April 2, the KIA provided written submissions to the NWB explaining its concerns with Agnico Eagle’s application, which include the following:
- Agnico Eagle has not shown an environmental emergency to support its claim that the amendment must be processed on an emergency basis: “Processing of applications on an emergency basis should be rare and reserved for serious environmental circumstances of urgent public concern that outweigh the public’s right to notice and a hearing.”
- Agnico Eagle should have submitted its application earlier if it knew there was a problem with the saline water by late 2019: “Agnico Eagle only submitted its application in late March 2020, asking for an approval by May 1, 2020, just over a month later. This does not give KIA and other interveners enough time to review the technical documents and consider both Agnico Eagle’s proposed emergency process, its proposal to release the saline water or consider alternatives. It also does not provide an opportunity for Rankinmiut to give input.”
- The KIA and Kivalliq beneficiaries are currently facing the “unprecedented challenge” of COVID-19: “This crisis has both limited and stretched KIA’s resources, and has made it particularly difficult to consider Agnico Eagle’s application on short notice.”
- People in Rankin Inuit are concerned about the state of Meliadine Lake: “The lake and river system provide habitat for Arctic char and lake trout, key sources of country food for the community … increasing permitted concentrations in the water released from the containment pond is likely to degrade the community’s perception of the water and fish in the lake.”
- Agnico Eagle’s technical documents do not explain if the different concentrations of total dissolved solids in the saline water will have an effect on the feel, colour and taste of the water: “We know that these things matter to Rankinmiut and may impact community members’ choices to fish in the lake and river system. This is significant with respect to food security particularly during these difficult times.”
- The KIA’s lands department has technical concerns with the Agnico Eagle application: “Agnico Eagle has not satisfied our technical consultants that it could not manage the saline water in [an] other way.”
The Meliadine mine was put into a “complete lockdown” on March 28 to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Agnico Eagle did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the KIA’s concerns.
An earlier version of this story stated that the water Agnico Eagle plans to release is saline. The company asserts that’s not the case.