New Brunswick

Sisson mine conditions: 5 things you need to know

It wasn't a big surprise that the province approved the environmental impact assessment of the Sisson mine on Thursday, but the approval comes with 40 conditions.

Environmental assessment gets provincial green light, but Northcliff Resources must meet 40 conditions

The Sisson mine project includes a tailings pond and ore processing plant, covering 12.5 square kilometre of Crown land. (Northcliff Resources Ltd.)

It wasn't a big surprise that the province approved the environmental impact assessment of the Sisson mine on Thursday.

Earlier this year, Energy and Mines Minister Donald Arseneault signalled the proposed open-pit tungsten and molybdnum mine, 60 kilometres north of Fredericton, was on its way to becoming a reality

However, the approval comes with several conditions.

The 40 measures largely include more monitoring and additional approvals in order for the project to move forward.

The company behind the massive mining proposal, Northcliff Resources, needs to meet all conditions before it can build the mine and it must do that within a five-year timeframe.

Here's what you need to know:

1. The bottom line

There are a few environmental impact assessment conditions that focus on trying to ensure Northcliff Resources has the funds to build the project and restore the site after it shuts down.

It states the company must submit a financial security plan within the next six months.

Another condition says Northcliff Resources is financially on the hook if there are "any catastrophic events, including cleaning up any environmental impacts."

CBC News has previously reported on concerns about the costs associated with the project, raised by a review commissioned by the government.

As for Northcliff Resources' current financial situation, the company says it does not have the funds to build the $579-million project.

The president and CEO, Chris Zahovskis, told CBC News he expects the environmental impact assessment approval will help with the financing process.

2. Tailings pond measures

Conservation groups and some people living near the proposed mine have voiced concerns the project could end up being another massive tailings pond disaster, similar to the breach at the Mount Polley mine in B.C. last year.

The conditions state there needs to be revised modelling for the tailings storage facility seepage, and a monitoring plan.

It also says Northcliff Resources must set up an independent tailings review board to evaluate the tailings storage facility.

The board is supposed to include at least two qualified geotechnical engineers and one other engineer or geoscientist.

3. After the mine closes

An earlier story by CBC News revealed the system proposed to treat tailings water after the open-pit mine shuts down is "known to fail," according to a Sisson mine cost review commissioned by the provincial government.

Environmental impact assessment condition number 29 says a "conceptual closure and post-closure monitoring program will be developed."

However, it doesn't get into specific targets or parameters that the monitoring program should include.

4. First Nations land

First Nations groups involved in consultations with the province on the mine are not pleased about the Sisson approval, to put it mildly. 

Essentially, First Nations groups involved in talks say the approval came in the midst of discussions about the project. As a result, they say the move has soured what was becoming a positive relationship with the government.

The conditions laid out by the province do incorporate First Nations consultation, saying indigenous people must be notified of the construction schedule and be involved in developing a monitoring system for the mine.

Chris Zahovskis, president and CEO of Northcliff Resources, says the company doesn't have the money to build the project yet, but he believes the environmental impact assessment approval will help with financing the Sisson mine.

But more interestingly, it says Northcliff Resources must "secure appropriate land tenure for areas that will be occupied."

According to First Nations groups, who never ceded the right to that land, reaching a land agreement with the government is nowhere close to complete.

It's unclear when and how the company will be able to reach that land condition.

5. The feds still need to weigh in

The conditional approval from the province does not mean the project has been given the ultimate green light.

The federal Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna, will still need to give her stamp of approval, after the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency completes its environmental review, but that doesn't seem to be moving at a very quick pace.

The agency says it's waiting for information about the environmental effects of the project from Northcliff Resources. The CEAA has been waiting for at least two months.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julianne Hazlewood is a multimedia journalist who's worked at CBC newsrooms across the country as a host, video journalist, reporter and producer. Have a story idea? julianne.hazlewood@cbc.ca

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