Small Doris North mine opens door to Hope Bay

“We are delighted.”

By JIM BELL

Miramar Mining Corp. is now only a few small steps away from gaining the right to build the Doris North gold mine, their doorway to the rich gold fields of Hope Bay.

Jim Prentice, minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, said yes to Doris North late last month, endorsing advice that the Nunavut Impact Review Board gave him this past March after a second review of the project’s environmental effects.

Miramar hopes to ship construction supplies to the Doris North site on next year’s sealift, begin construction in the winter of 2007, and have the mine up and running by mid-2008.

On its own, Doris North is small — an underground gold mine expected to operate for only two years.

But Miramar hopes that extracting and selling the 300,000 proven ounces of gold sitting under the ground at Doris North will help them exploit a much bigger trove: more than five million ounces lying within the massive Hope Bay property, a rich mineral belt that stretches for about 80 kilometres southwards.

“We are delighted. The minister’s decision opens the door for us to get down to business,” said Tony Walsh, Miramar’s president and CEO.

As of Dec. 1, 2005, Walsh’s company had spent $170.9 million exploring the Hope Bay mineral belt, which covers about 1,000 square kilometres of land, most of it to the south of the Doris North mine.

Miramar has high hopes for two other sites located south of the Doris deposit, called “Boston” and “Madrid.” To develop them, Miramar will use cash earned by the Doris North mine, as well as the mine’s transportation infrastructure.

When Miramar begins construction of the Doris North mine in the winter of 2007, they’ll put in a five-kilometre road to a small jetty on the coast. They say that in future years, the road and jetty can be used to supply other projects to the south of the area.

A mill to be built at Doris North would process material from the Boston and Madrid areas even after the underground mine there is closed, and a jet airstrip would continue to be used.

As well, Miramar says their step-by-step approach to the development of Hope Bay gives the Inuit of the Kitikmeot more time to get used to it.

“This approach allows time for the people of the West Kitikmeot to see how these projects develop, to assess the impacts and to adjust their conditions for subsequent development in the region, learning from their past experience with mine development,” the company says.

It’s not clear, however, how many jobs for Nunavummiut would be created at Doris North, or at any subsequent developments. The terms of an Inuit impact and benefit agreement between Miramar and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association have not been made public, and a “summary” of the IIBA, issued in 2004, contains no concrete information.

But Miramar’s project description, first done in 2002, then updated in 2005, contains these estimates:

• Mine construction: 44 workers, with about 27 coming from Nunavut;

• Underground mine: 85 workers, with about 30 coming from Nunavut;

• Mill: 30 workers, with about 11 coming from Nunavut.

The company warns, though, that these numbers are estimates only, and could change depending on the availability of qualified labour.

Miramar’s exploration activities, though, have also created work for some Kitikmeot residents. Between 2000 and 2005, the company spent $1.5 million in wage employment for men, and $299,750 in wage employment for women.

The IIBA does say that most jobs at the mine will be organized on a two-week-in, two-week-out basis.

The points of hire for Inuit will include Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak and Kugaaruk. Inuit employees will get free air transportation to and from the point of hire.

Booze and drugs will be prohibited at the mine site, and Miramar will make summer jobs available to Inuit students.

Miramar first submitted the Doris North to the review board in March of 2002.

But in August of 2004, the NIRB refused to endorse Miramar’s application, asking the company to supply more information in five areas: wildlife monitoring, water management, the use of a lake for tailings disposal, the design of the jetty and the socio-economic impact of the project.

In January of 2005, Miramar re-applied to the NIRB. After months of hearings, discussions, and back-and-forth correspondence, the board recommended, in March of 2006, that DIAND accept Miramar’s proposal.

Prentice issued his endorsement July 28, and the company announced the news Aug. 2.

Though Miramar has spent four and a half years guiding their project through Nunavut’s regulatory jungle, they’re not quite out of it yet.

Their next step is to get a project certificate from the NIRB, and then apply for a water licence from the Nunavut Water Board. They also need various other permits and licences, and to work out surface leases for land controlled by the Kitikmeot Inuit Association.

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