Gahcho Kue threatens environment: Yellowknives Dene

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation in the Northwest Territories says De Beers’ plans for its Gahcho Kue mine site don't go far enough when it comes to environmental protections.

The YellowknivesDene First Nation in the Northwest Territories says De Beers’ plans for its GahchoKue mine site don't go far enough when it comes to protecting the environment.

The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board held two days of public hearings this week at the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre in Yellowknife, reviewing De Beers' water licence application for the mine.

The Gahcho Kue site is located about 280 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, and will be the territory’s fourth diamond mine, with a life of about 11 years.

Todd Slack is with the Yellowknives Dene's land and environment department.

He doesn’t believe De Beers is setting out to destroy the environment, but says the plans in place only contain the minimum protections required.

For example, uranium levels in nearby Kennady Lake are expected to increase by a factor of 11,000 during the mine’s operation.

"We're not in a position to debate whether that's harmful to the environment,” he says. “But to say that it's minimizing the amount of change, well, that seems like an awfully big number to me, and it doesn't seem they're minimizing the change, when we know they can do better."

Slack is also concerned about the state of the land when closure of the mine is complete — an estimated 12 years after mining operations have stopped. 

The Yellowknives expect the land to return to normal, meaning fish and caribou habitat would go back to how they are today.

They want to see De Beers prepare a draft reclamation research plan within six months of receiving its water licence, in addition to the draft closure and reclamation plan that De Beers has already prepared as part of the water licence application. The company has agreed to that recommendation.

Debate over security

The hearings also included discussion over the amount of security the mine will be expected to post.

The N.W.T.’s department of Environment and Natural Resources recommends a security of about $84.5 million.

De Beers estimates the security required at $50 million.

De Beers says it got its number by excluding "optional items" not currently included in the development plans and credit for some reclamation items completed during the life of the mine.

Both parties also used different methods to arrive at the figures.

The Deninu Kue First Nation and the North Slave Métis Alliance also took part in the hearings.