Sisson mine gets federal approval, but environmental transparency questioned

The $579-million Sisson Mine project near Stanley has received federal approval, and construction will begin next spring, federal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc said Friday.

Work on mine will begin next spring, says federal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc

The Sisson Mine project has received an environmental assessment approval from the federal government, New Brunswick and federal politicians announced Friday. (Ed Hunter/CBC )

The $579-million Sisson Mine project near Stanley has received federal approval, and construction will begin next spring, federal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc said Friday.

"The steps fell into place, I would say, rather methodically," said LeBlanc, the minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

"And the final piece was the federal cabinet this week to approve the environmental assessment, and that's why I'm here — to announce the that the government of Canada has approved the project."

LeBlanc said the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency ensured a proper environmental assessment was done.

"They consulted experts … and they came to the conclusion that the environmental risk for things like rivers, tailing ponds, could be mitigated and answered by the appropriate conditions on the permits the government of Canada and the province will obviously include," he said.

Six Maliseet First Nations communities reached an environmental agreement on the mine in February, although the project remains controversial among Indigenous people in the area.

The Sisson Mine's impact on water is a worry for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. (Northcliff Resources Ltd.)

A statement from the province Friday said construction of the tungsten and molybdenum mine north of Fredericton will create 500 jobs.

Tungsten is a silver-white metal used in hard metals to harden saw blades and make drill bits. Molybdenum is used in products like military aircrafts, industrial motors, and filaments. 

The mine will create another 300 jobs during the mine's 27-year lifespan, the province said.

Not filled with confidence

The announcement of environmental approval wasn't welcome news for everyone. Concerns about water prompted the Conservation Council of New Brunswick to ask the government for more transparency about the conditions for the mining operation.

"This project is a long way from being complete — a piece of paper from a federal minister saying approval is granted, with no details, doesn't give me much confidence" said Lois Corbett, executive director of the council.

She questioned the government's openness about the environmental impact of the project and said she hopes the federal government has attached conditions to its approval to protect the water around the mine.

40 conditions

In December 2015, the province released at list of 40 conditions that needed to be met before the project could move ahead.

The final condition said that Sisson would be accountable and responsible for any catastrophic environmental events resulting from the project.

But even with the federal government's approval, Corbett was not convinced Sisson has met the conditions.  

"My concern is that the company has not proven that the design it has proposed for its toxic mine waste is good enough to prevent disaster," she said in an interview Friday.  

"We need to see some evidence that can be designed in a way that it doesn't put our rivers and streams at risk."

'Huge' economic impact

The economic impact of the Sisson Mine project will be huge for New Brunswick," Premier Brian Gallant said in a  statement.

It's estimated the project will gross $280 million in royalties for the province and an additional $245 million in tax revenue.

The six First Nations communities will receive 9.8 per cent of the royalties.

Woodstock First Nation Chief Tim Paul said the community will work closely with Sisson Mine Ltd. and the provincial government to make sure the project is "environmentally responsible" and improves the economic lives of members.

"It is a historic event to see this kind of partnership," he said in the release. "It is one that all New Brunswickers can benefit from as it will hopefully lead to a more environmentally sustainable project."

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