Clock ticking on Ekati mine expansion: Dominion Diamond Corporation

The owner of the N.W.T.'s Ekati diamond mine says it's worried the current timeline for reviewing an expansion will delay the start of construction for the project.

Company says current timeline of environmental assessment could delay construction, prompt layoffs

Dominion Diamond Corporation is asking the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board (MVEIRB) to speed up the timeline for the environmental assessment of the company's proposed expansion of the Ekati diamond mine.

Dominion wants to start building a new pit at its Ekati mine in the summer of 2016. The pit, called Jay, would add 10 years to the mine, and is slated to open in late 2019 — just as reserves at the existing Ekati operation run out. 

But MVEIRB's assessment is currently not expected to wrap up until February 2016. That — and the fact that there would be several permitting steps to follow — would likely not leave the company enough time to start construction when it needs to.

"The late start for construction may mean the project could not begin production in late 2019, possibly resulting in the need to lay off workers as Ekati runs out of ore to process and unnecessarily jeopardize the overall economic viability of the project," the company has written in a letter to the board.

What Dominion wants

Dominion is asking for two changes that would shave two months off the process. It wants the date of a public hearing moved to August 2015 from September 2015, and it wants the board to issue its report of environmental assessment four months after the hearing, not five. 

"The reason this is a critical consideration is because the loss of these months from the environmental assessment schedule could put at risk Dominion Diamond's ability to begin construction in summer 2016," the company wrote. 

The review board has 16 months to issue its report, according to new regulations added last year to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. 

Board staff say that if the assessment timeline for Jay remains as it is, the board will still be within that deadline. 

However, the board says it still plans to consider and respond to Dominion's letter.

A reasonable request

Mike Bradshaw, the executive director of the NWT Chamber of Commerce, says Dominion's request is a reasonable one. 

"Five months after or post-hearing for the board's report is not acceptable," he says. "This is a small extension of a much larger mine site. The process should be totally clear to the board and they should be able to figure out ways to accelerate the report."

Bill Ross, a member of the Ekati watchdog group, the Independent Environmental Monitoring Agency, wouldn't comment on Dominion's request, saying it's outside the agency's mandate to do so.

But he said it's important that the board have solid information to work from during the process.

Brendan Bell, Dominion's acting chief executive officer, said via email that "having an efficient regulatory review timeline is an important issue for the Jay project."

Ekati employed a total of 1,336 workers as of 2013. Half of those workers are listed by Dominion as "Northern." 

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