MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada update

Published by MAC on 2007-06-29

Canada update

29th June 2007

MAC editorial member, MiningWatch Canada, has warned that some twenty Canadian lakes will be destroyed if they are now wilfully redefined as "waste dumps."

One of the most vociferous - and united - attacks on the lake-dumping proposal centres on Northgate Mineral's Kemess North mine.


The Takla First Nation, supported by others, last week re-affirmed its strenuous opposition to the proposal.

Meanwhile, an apparent investigation for uranium in a crucial watershed by the world's third biggest mining company looks like being knocked on its head

20 Canadian lakes to be destroyed by mining companies, critics warn

Kelly Patterson, The Ottawa Citizen

28th June 2007

Mining companies are poised to turn more than 20 lakes across Canada into toxic waste dumps by using a special exemption to federal environmental rules, critics say.

If the plans go ahead, lakes at mine sites from British Columbia to Newfoundland would effectively be wiped off the map, warns Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada, an Ottawa-based advocacy group.

A 2002 rule allows mining companies to redefine lakes as waste dumps, she says. That way, federal fish-protection laws don't apply, so the lakes can be used to house waste rock, which is often laced with heavy metals such as arsenic and mercury.

The rule acts "like a magic wand touching the lake and saying, 'This is no longer a lake'," says Ms. Coumans.

The companies must have federal approval, and must compensate for the move by enhancing fish habitat elsewhere.

Originally introduced to "grandfather" existing mines from stricter environmental rules that were introduced in 2002, the exemption has sparked "an explosion" of new projects over the past three years, Ms. Coumans said.

Last year, the first new exemption to the 2002 rules was approved, allowing Aur Resources Inc. to use two lakes near Buchans, N.L., as tailings ponds for its copper-zinc operation.

Two more mines have applied for the exemption: Agnico-Eagles Mines Ltd. and Miramar Mining Corp., both for projects in Nunavut.

Similar plans are in the works for more than a dozen others, Ms. Coumans said.

Sealing off a lake as a tailing pond is often cheaper than building a land dump; submerging mine waste in water also solves the problem of acid-rock drainage, a process where exposure to the air causes heavy metals in the rock to leach out from land dumps, proponents say.

Glen Hopky of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans could not confirm how many projects were expected to apply. He denies the exemption is being used as a loophole, saying it was not intended merely to grandfather a handful of old mines.

All such projects must first undergo a rigorous public-consultation process, he says.

Firms must also show they have made "careful consideration of the alternatives," he said, adding that the projects undergo a strict environmental assessment.

The department has a stiff policy that there should be "no net loss" of fish habitat, he said.

Fisheries officials assess the "productive capacity" of the lakes to determine how many "fish habitat units" they provide. The company must then match that number by restoring or enhancing fish habitats in the area.

"It's a bit of a bookkeeping exercise," Mr. Hopky said.

In the case of Aur Resources, the firm promised to restore fish habitat in a nearby stream that had been blocked by a now-defunct logging operation.

The Fisheries Department is "very experienced" in restoring fish habitats, he added.

But Ian Birtwell, a retired fisheries scientist who specializes in the effects of mining on aquatic life, said there is "no demonstrated success" of such efforts in the North, where dozens of lakes have been damaged by mining firms.

Diamond mines, for example, sometimes drain a lake in order to access deposits on the lakebed.

Under federal orders, many firms have launched fish restoration projects, none of which has been a proven success, he says.

"There's a perception that we know how to do this and we don't."

Not only is there "inadequate knowledge about how to compensate and restore" lakes that have been destroyed, but the long-term consequences of transforming a lake into a waste dump have not been explored, he said.

Once a lake is gone, it's gone forever, with unknown long-term consequences for the fish that were "transferred" elsewhere, he said.

"Who will be around to monitor ... (the situation) for tens if not hundreds of years ?"

© The Ottawa Citizen 2007

Open Letter to Minister Barry Penner on Canada's National Day of Action

PO Box 2310
Prince George, BC V2N 2J8
Telephone: 250-564-9321
Fax: 250-564-9521

To: Honourable Barry Penner
Minister of Environment
PO Box 9047 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC V8W 9E2

June 29, 2007

Dear Minister Penner,

As the Takla Lake First Nation's newly elected Chief and Council, we are writing to the Province of British Columbia to state that our position on the proposed Kemess North Mine has not changed. We are here to protect our sacred and pristine watershed, which includes Amazay Lake, from the destruction of mine development. Northgate Minerals Corporation has plans to turn it into a massive contaminated dump. Amazay Lake will not be sacrificed for the benefit of profit.

The Kemess North Joint Environmental Review Process is an example of an unacceptable process that continues to extinguish our constitutional right. This environmental process, that you are responsible for, is a procedural exercise that frustrates First Nations and denies our responsibilities as rightful stewards of this land. When all the gold, copper and timber is gone, we will be here living with the contamination and the legacy of mines and other destructive developments.

On this day of awareness and action, we want to show our support for our neighbors the Nak'azdli First Nation as they begin to deal with the same issues that our Nation has been dealing with on the environmental process for Kemess North for three years now. We support the efforts they have taken to develop a joint review process that respects our collective constitutional rights.

Originally Signed By:

Chief Dolly Abraham
Takla Lake First Nation

cc. Grand Chief Gordon Pierre, Tsay Keh Dene

Chief Johnny Pierre, Tsay Keh Dene

Chief Donny Van Somer, Kwadacha First Nation

Chief Leonard Thomas, Nak'azdli First Nation

NB health minister rules out mining in Moncton watershed

'That's unacceptable,' Mike Murphy says while admitting CVRD-Inco is looking for uranium

CBC News

21st June 2007

Mike Murphy, New Brunswick's minister of health and MLA for Moncton North, says CVRD-Inco may be exploring for uranium in the city's watershed, but that's probably as far as it will go.

Moncton's drinking water is too precious to allow mining for uranium in the watershed, Murphy said.

"There's never going to be mining for uranium in the watershed of Moncton," Murphy said Thursday. "That's unacceptable. It's not going to happen."

The MLA for Moncton North admitted the company is looking for uranium in the watershed. The company said it's taking small soil and water samples as well as using a Geiger counter to measure radiation levels.

Murphy said it's part of a much bigger plan to see what sort of deposits exist in the southern part of New Brunswick.

"The testing so far, as I understand, is to determine the periphery of a uranium find and this testing has been going on in Moncton area right up to Jemseg."

Scott MacPhee, a spokesman for CVRD-INCO, said while the company doesn't explore just for the fun of it, he doubts a mine will be dug in Moncton's watershed.

'All we're asking is let us take a look and we'll cross that bridge when we get to it but I can tell you the track record in exploration is you do a lot of looking before you find anything and that's why new mines are few and far between," MacPhee said.

Murphy said he'll spend the next few days meeting people who are concerned about the exploration.


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