MAC: Mines and Communities

Inco draws fire for French-only data

Published by MAC on 2002-03-07

Inco draws fire for French-only data

Globe and Mail
By Allan Robinson, Mining Reporter

Saturday, March 9, 2002

Inco Ltd. has made volumes of technical data available on its Web site for its $1.4-billion (U.S.) Goro nickel and cobalt project in New Caledonia, but in the French language only.

As a result, an environmental group concerned about the potential impact of the tropical island project in the French Overseas Territory in the South Pacific, said its experts were unable to evaluate the large amount of highly technical material before a one-month deadline for comments had passed.

Mining Watch Canada in Ottawa had lined up a group of scientists to provide an independent review of Inco's environmental impact assessment, but the experts assembled in Canada, United States and Australia are not bilingual and could not do the work, said Catherine Coumans, research co-ordinator for Mining Watch.

Mining Watch is now putting together a French-speaking group to provide a response to the project, which could affect coral reefs in the area.

However, the deadline for the responses expired on March 6.

Toronto-based Inco has refused to provide an English language translation of the technical reports.

Early this year, the French government submitted a proposal seeking World Heritage status for the entire reef surrounding New Caledonia, Ms. Coumans said.

"It's in French only because it's a French country and it's the language the assessment and the consultation is being made in," said Alan Stubbs, vice-president of public and government affairs.

Inco will not be making the report available in English to mining analysts or to its bankers, he said.

Meanwhile, heavy equipment to construct the mine and related infrastructure continues to be shipped to the island, Ms. Coumans said.

Environmentalists have asked for a delay in the project to respond to Inco's proposals.

The one-month comment period is regulated by New Caledonian rules, Mr. Stubbs said.

Environmentalists have complained that Inco has not done enough to consult the local communities, the indigenous Kanak people, about the project.

Local chiefs, who are also representatives of the Sénat Coutumier or customary senate, have also asked for additional environmental studies and social impact assessments of the project. The senate consists of individuals who represent the clan chiefs from the different tribal regions.

But Mining Watch notes that in October, New Caledonian representatives from the senate and local environmental groups met with Inco executives and government officials of Natural Resources Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

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