'No trust whatsoever': Northern Manitoba community wants consultation, not action, on mine rehabilitation

A northern Manitoba community councilor says people in her area have lost trust in the province to properly clean up pollution left behind by an old mine, eight years into the rehabilitation process.

Province began rehabilitating Sherridon's polluted lake in 2009, now wants to connect it to clean lake

Coun. Debi Hatch describes the colour of the lake as 'tomato soup.' (Submitted by Debi Hatch)

A northern Manitoba community councillor says people in her area no longer trust the province to properly clean up pollution left behind by an old mine, eight years into the rehabilitation process.

"We're the ones that are going to be left here once everybody packs up and goes back home," said Debi Hatch, a community councillor for Sherridon, Man., about 650 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. "And we're going to be left with, does it work?

The province began a remediation project in 2009 to rehabilitate land in the area and Camp Lake, an old tailings lake left behind by the now-defunct Sherritt Gordon Mine. Last week, the province started to move forward with the final phase of the project, which includes rerouting a temporary spawning creek established in 2009 into Camp Lake instead of Kississing Lake.
Fish are spawning in Sherling Creek, built as a temporary channel. (Submitted/Debi Hatch)

But Hatch said the community isn't confident the lake is healthy enough to support the fish and worries it will hurt the fish population in Kississing Lake. She said the lake is the community's main resource

"It means everything," she said. "People — they get their food from it, there's lodges on the lake, there's lots of boating, kids swim in it."

"We're very happy with the work that they've done so far by taking all the tailings, they're not blowing around now," she said. "But we want to finish this project off where it's not going to cause any damage."
Kississing Lake on the left, and Camp Lake on the right. The community wonders if Camp Lake is ready to be declared remediated. (SubmittedéDebi Hatch)

Last week, community members set up a road blockade on the highway into the area to prevent provincial equipment from entering, but took it down around an hour later after learning the province had put the project on hold.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Mineral Resources told CBC News remaining work won't be done until the province consults further with the community.

"We are working to repair relationships and build trust with the community in order to complete the final stages of the project, which are necessary to sustain the quality of water in Camp Lake for the long term," the spokesperson said in an email.

'We see it change'

The Sherritt Gordon mine closed in 1951 and left behind about 7.4 million tons of acid-generating waste across about 47 hectares adjacent to Camp Lake, according to consulting firm Tetra Tech.
An aerial photo of the discharge from Camp Lake. (Submitted/Debi Hatch)

"In the old days, there [were] no regulations, so they created all kinds of environmental disasters, really," Hatch said.

"They left a whole bunch of mine tailings on the earth here in our community, right in our community, actually, and over the years that oxidized and turned all a nice bright orange colour."

Right after the spring thaw, lime sprinkled on the ice on Camp Lake drags iron down to the bottom so the lake looks clean, Hatch said. But when the water is stirred by wind, the lake starts to look more like a bowl of tomato soup.

The spokesperson said testing has indicated that the quality of water in Camp Lake is suitable to support fish and other aquatic life, despite its colour. Water from the lake is analyzed in a lab by an independent, accredited environmental laboratory, and it has been tested more than a dozen times since June 1.

Hatch isn't convinced.

"We see it change," she said. "We see it change from an ocean blue, clear lake in the spring to what we have now."
Kississing Lake in the foreground is blue, while Camp Lake in the back is orange. (Submitted/Debi Hatch)

She said the community has lost faith in what the province tells them about the lakes and wants answers to their questions about the health of the ecosystems.

"There is no trust whatsoever left," she said.