Calls grow for public review of Nunavut mining company’s plans to pump salty water into nearby bay
Agnico Eagle wants to pipe effluent from its Meliadine mine to Melvin Bay, near Rankin Inlet
Inuit organizations, hunter and trapper associations and Rankin Inlet residents who have provided comments to the Nunavut Impact Review Board are in agreement: Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.’s proposal to pipe salty water from its Meliadine gold mine to the coast should receive a full public review.
Submissions to the review board’s call for comments say the company’s plans go beyond what’s permitted by the company’s project certificates.
And the construction work could pose a health risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Kivalliq Inuit Association.
Agnico Eagle recently submitted two proposals to the NIRB, its “2020 Saline Discharge Strategy” proposal and the “Saline Effluent Discharge to Marine Environment” proposal.
Agnico Eagle said it wants to stop trucking effluent from its Meliadine gold mine to the coast and instead lay down about 40 kilometres of double pipes to carry salty water from the mine to Melvin Bay.
But in its comments about the proposals to the NIRB, the KIA said the COVID-19 pandemic creates “unique and important concerns” with the proposed water pipes, particularly during the construction phase that would be scheduled to begin in August 2020, if the proposal were approved.
Further assessment by the NIRB should detail how Agnico Eagle will implement public health precautions during the construction, the KIA said.
“A failure to assess and mitigate these epidemiological risks could create a legitimate emergency,” said the organization, which represents Inuit in the Kivalliq region.
COVID-19 prevention is within NIRB’s mandate to “protect and promote the existing and future well-being” of Nunavut residents, the KIA said.
“In the present context, the likely need for these special public health measures underscores the significance of this proposed project modification,” the KIA said.
Agnico Eagle has outlined the socioeconomic benefits and impacts of its pipe proposal, the KIA acknowledged, but it said these require the full participation of Kivalliq Inuit to be realized.
“Additional assessment is required to determine whether the socioeconomic impacts and benefits as outlined in the proposal continue to be valid during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the KIA said.
The KIA also said it is concerned that the two proposals may affect local caribou herds, “impeding the access of hunters to this important source of country food. ”
The Baker Lake and Issatik hunting and trapping associations also told the NIRB they wanted to see a review because of the effects on caribou and effects on marine life, saying the proposals constitute a “significant modification.”
In its comment to the NIRB, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. said it agrees with the other Inuit organizations that the scope of proposal’s activities is “a significant modification to the original project as previously assessed and approved by the NIRB.”
Agnico Eagle wants to release treated salty water at a daily rate of 6,000 cubic metres to 12,000 cubic metres into Melvin Bay.
That’s about the volume of 40 1,400-square-foot three-bedroom houses, which would be released every day during the open-water season from May to October.
This groundwater comes from inflow to the underground mine at the Tiriganiaq deposit, the company said, in a summary of its “2020 Saline Discharge Strategy” proposal and the “Saline Effluent Discharge to Marine Environment” proposal to the NIRB.
At the bay, the pipes would extend underground from the pump house to about seven metres below the surface of the water and continue along the sea floor to a diffuser at a depth of 20 metres.
The pipes would remain in place following decommissioning of the mine, Agnico Eagle said.
If approved, construction on the pipes would begin in August 2020, create 24 construction jobs and be completed by June 2021. The diffuser would be built from July 2021 to September 2021.
The discharge of groundwater treated at the mine to Melvin Bay would take place when there is no ice, from May to October, and would continue until the mine’s closure in 2032.
Individuals who commented also told the NIRB they wanted to see a full environmental review of Agnico Eagle’s proposals.
One said to pass the proposal without a full public review is “unacceptable, unfathomable and tramples on the rights of affected Rankinmiut.”
Longtime resident Sue Shirley was poetic in her comment to the NIRB. She said Melvin Bay happens to be “one of the most wonderful places, close to town, for finding mussels in the Rankin Inlet area.”
“People of all ages can get there without having to own a heavy vehicle. It’s not polluted, so far, by dump runoff, mine tailings or too much else. Because it’s a closed and small bay, naturally any extra, piped in on a regular basis, has to remain in the waters and affect the natural balance of the bivalves, other sea creatures and the well-being of the citizens of the area.”
“Change can be good,” she went on. “People need employment. And people also need an environment in which to live, renew their bodies, their minds and their spirits.”
Agnico Eagle is also seeking an amendment to its water licence to make an emergency water release into Meliadine Lake.
The KIA has said these plans should face a public hearing before approval.
But there’s still no decision on that, Agnico Eagle told Nunatsiaq News.