The six Maliseet First Nations in New Brunswick have reached a multimillion-dollar financial deal with the provincial government that clears the way for the Sisson mine project north of Fredericton to proceed.
Under the accommodation agreement announced Friday, the six First Nations — St. Mary's, Woodstock, Oromocto, Tobique, Kingsclear and Madawaska — will receive 9.8 per cent of provincial revenue generated from the metallic mineral tax. The six First Nations will share in:
- $3 million upon federal environmental approval of the mine.
- 35 per cent of the first $2 million the province receives in royalties each year.
- 3.5 per cent of annual royalties above $2 million.
The province forecasts the mine could result in $280 million in mineral royalties to the province over its expected 27-year life.
"We have made one big leap in making the Sisson mine that much … closer to happening," Premier Brian Gallant said as he announced the agreement.
A report from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency in April 2016 said the impact of the Sisson mine project is likely to be significant on the Maliseet First Nations of Tobique, Kingsclear, Woodstock and St. Mary's through the loss of a traditional area for hunting, fishing and resource-gathering.
"Finalizing these agreements is a big step in having the Sisson mine project move forward," said Chris Zahovskis, the president and CEO of Northcliff Resources, which co-owns the partnership proposing the mine.
The First Nations were not represented at the news conference in Florenceville-Bristol, where the deal was announced.
Lawyer Dominque Nouvet, who represented the First Nations in their negotiations with the province, released a statement late Friday stating most of chiefs had long opposed the mine but were mindful of the province's eagerness to see the project proceed.
"Given this reality, the Maliseet Chiefs spent over a year in negotiations with senior [provincial] officials exploring potential measures to address Maliseet concerns with the projects," reads the statement.
Following the announcement about the Sisson agreement, Finance Minister Cathy Rogers announced the province had reached a new 10-year agreement with the six Maliseet communities on sharing gas and tobacco tax revenue from sales by Maliseet retailers.
The province made the tax agreements conditional on the Sisson agreement, the chiefs said.
"This was a critical factor in the decision of many of the Maliseet governments to sign the agreements rather than litigate against the Sisson mine," said the Maliseet Nations statement.
The agreement will also see approximately $1.5 million worth of freehold land purchased to compensate the Maliseet communities for the 12.5 hectare that will be lost to the mine.
Chiefs previously opposed mine
Until Friday, most Maliseet chiefs were opposed to the open-pit mine. In April 2016, the chiefs of St. Mary's, Tobique, Kingsclear, Oromocto and Madawaska First Nations called for the mine to be rejected.
"This open pit mine would destroy one of our last remaining areas to harvest and practise our culture," Tobique Chief Ross Perley said in a statement by the chiefs at the time.
The traditional Wolastoq Grand Council was not involved in the negotiations leading to the agreement and remains opposed to the mine.
"What we're mainly concerned about is the protection of the land and the waters," said Grand Chief Ron Tremblay.
"I don't have a comment on the decision the band-elected chiefs have made," said Tremblay. "That's their prerogative."
"I wish that we would have had a seat at the table — the traditional government. But the provincial government has never invited us to the table."
Mine costs $579M
The mine would impact 1,253 hectares of land about 60 kilometres northwest of Fredericton.
The open pit tungsten and molybdenum mine and ore-processing facility is expected to operate for 27 years, mining 30,000 dry tonnes per day. The mine is projected to cost $579 million.
During construction, the mine is expected to create 500 jobs. When the mine is in operation, it would create 300 jobs.
- 5 Maliseet chiefs want Sisson mine rejected
- Sisson mine impact on Maliseet First Nations 'significant'
- Sisson mine project slammed by Aboriginal leaders
- Maliseet chiefs open to accommodation talks on Sisson mine
The province and the First Nations have jointly submitted the agreement to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for review. The province expects a decision on federal environmental approval within months.
"We should very soon expect to have the federal government sign off from their point of view," said Gallant.
The proponent will then need to arrange for financing of the development, said Gallant.
"The next step after that is shovels in the ground and jobs being created in this region," said Gallant.