New Brunswick

Sisson mine seeks permit to dump waste water in fish-bearing brooks

The company behind the proposed Sisson mine project is seeking a permit from the federal government to be able to dump waste water into fish-bearing brooks and compensate for the loss of fish habitat.

Environment Canada to hold public consultation about request on March 15 in Stanley

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

The company behind the proposed Sisson mine project is seeking a permit from the federal government to be able to dump waste water into fish-bearing brooks and compensate for the loss of fish habitat.

Environment and Climate Change Canada will host a public consultation about Sisson Mine Ltd.'s request on March 15 at the Upper Nashwaak Lions Club in Stanley from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m.

Lois Corbett, executive director Conservation Council of New Brunswick, is encouraging people to attend the meeting about the central New Brunswick project, planned for forestland about 60 kilometres northwest of Fredericton, near Napadogan.

"Remember that the project is being developed on Crown land, the people's land," she said.

"People depend on water and the fishing resource. … So the function of a meeting like this is to help inform the people and, in theory, hear from the people … what their concerns are."

The proposed open-pit tungsten and molybdenum mine received federal environmental approval in June and Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said at that time he expected construction to begin by this spring.

But as part of the permitting process, the project still requires an amendment to the metal mining effluent regulations under the federal Fisheries Act before it can proceed, said Corbett, who has reviewed the company's documents.

The proposal involves the development and use of a tailings storage facility "that is expected to cover some brooks that are productive fish habitat" and associated storage of tailings and waste rock.

Corbett contends this part of the operation will have "a significant impact" on Bird Brook and West Branch Napadogan Brook, as well as Sisson Brook and McBean Brook, which are all rearing grounds and spawning grounds for several species, including brook trout and American eel.

Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, hopes the Mount Polley mine disaster in 2014 will prompt the federal government to require 'dramatic changes' to Sisson Mine Ltd.'s proposed tailings storage. (CBC)

If the project proceeds, the company will be mining tungsten, a silver-white metal used in hard metals to harden saw blades and make drill bits, and molybdenum, which is used in products such as military aircraft, industrial motors and filaments.

Other materials in the earth that the company is not interested, including heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead and copper, will become waste, she said.

The company is proposing to dump that partly acidic mining waste and hold it back with a tailings dam Corbett describes as being twice as high as the Mactaquac Dam, then covering it with water to prevent it from being exposed to the air and becoming more acidic.

But that's the same disposal method associated with the Mount Polley mine disaster near Likely, B.C., in 2014, said Corbett.

The tailings dam of that open pit copper and gold mine burst, sending 24 million cubic metres of mining waste gushing into nearby lakes and rivers, creating "a toxic kill zone for years and years and years," she said.

If developed the Sisson Mine would be in operation for about 27 years and cost an estimated $579 million. (Submitted Sisson Mining Ltd)

An independent expert panel of engineers assembled by the B.C. government following the breach recommended that best available technology be required of new mines, including due consideration of the use of filtered dry stack tailings, said Corbett.

Sisson Mine's application references the Mount Polley disaster but "rejects looking at different alternatives like dry storage in favour of old-fashioned storage measures," she said.

"So that's something people might want to ask questions about — why aren't we looking at better ways to deal with mining waste so that a) we don't have to destroy fish habitat and b) we can rest more easily, not worried about risk to Napadogan River, Nashwaak River in Stanley and ultimately the St. John River if a catastrophe were to happen."

"What I'm hoping is given what we saw come out of the Mount Polley catastrophe that the [federal environment] department may require some dramatic changes to what sort of old-fashioned practices the current proponent is suggesting."

If developed, the Sisson mine could create 500 positions during construction, and 300 once operating, according to the company.

The mine would cost an estimated $579 million and be in operation for about 27 years, officials have said.

Opponents of the mine have long taken comfort in the belief that low metal prices will render the mine a non-starter.

The Sisson project underwent a feasibility study in early 2013 after international tungsten prices peaked at $460 US/mtu in 2011. (An mtu represents 10 kilograms of tungsten.)

Prices subsequently slumped for several years but recently rebounded.

Earlier this week, however, Northcliff Resources Ltd., the controlling partner of the proposed mine, saw its stock close at 10 cents a share — a 14-month low and down 50 per cent since the project won federal environmental approval last June.

The project has been controversial in the rural area that surrounds the proposed site, dividing people along environmental and economic lines.

In February 2017, six Maliseet First Nations agreed to the Sisson mine deal, including Tobique, Kingsclear, Woodstock, Oromocto, St. Mary's and Madawaska.

Since then, several groups have distanced themselves from that decision, including members of the Wulustukyik grandmothers and mothers who have set up an encampment near the site of the proposed mine.

In the summer of 2015, during the provincial environmental review process, hundreds of people crowded into a high school gymnasium.

The New Brunswick Department of Environment approved the environmental impact assessment in December of that year, subject to 40 conditions.

One of the requirements was that the project start within five years.

The province also stipulated the company must protect water quality and quantity, fish habitat, wetlands and archeological resources, and put in place "appropriate" monitoring and emergency response plans.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton


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