Agnico Eagle's open-pit offshoot from Nunavut gold mine gets federal ministerial approval

Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett has signed off on a new mining project near Baker Lake, Nunavut.

Production at the mine will begin in mid-2019

Gold miners work at Agnico Eagle's Meadowbank site, 150 kilometres north of Baker Lake. The company's proposed Whale Tail Pit project is approximately 50 kilometres northwest of Meadowbank. (Canadian Press)

The federal minister for Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs has signed off on a new mining project near Baker Lake, Nunavut.

Agnico Eagle's Whale Tail project is an open-pit gold mine, expected to operate for three to four years, starting next year.

It will be connected to the company's Meadowbank mine by a 65-kilometre road, so it can use existing processing facilities.

Initially, local groups were concerned about caribou crossing the road, but after a final hearing, the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) signed off on the project with 64 specific conditions, many of which focus on managing environmental impacts.

In her approval, Carolyn Bennett noted elevated arsenic levels could still be an issue in runoff from water storage and in the fill water for the proposed pit lake, to be created after the mine closes. Therefore, she has insisted on careful monitoring.

The pit in Agnico Eagle's Amaruq satellite deposit is expected to be operational until 2022, with close-out operations running an additional seven years.

With the responsible federal ministers signing off on the report submitted to them by NIRB, the review board now has 30 days to issue a project certificate.

Once the certificate is issued, Agnico Eagle can pursue the necessary permits to start construction. Dale Coffin, a spokesperson for Agnico Eagle, says the company expects to begin construction this summer.

Continuous employment 

The company recently announced it will be prolonging its operations at its Vault and Phaser pits to make up for what would have been a production gap between the initially projected end of production at Meadowbank and the start of production at Amaruq.

Coffin says he expects the production gap to be only a few weeks during the summer of 2019, so employee contracts will continue without a break.

The company, which currently employs around 1,200 people at the Meadowbank site, will be hiring long-haul truck drivers to run ore from Whale Tail to Meadowbank.

Some of the 64 conditions required per the NIRB report deal with treatment of employees. The company is expected to aid employees with financial planning and efforts to gain affordable housing.

It also requires staff get timely access to health care and be trained in available health services.

The company will work with the Kivalliq Inuit Association to run cross-cultural training for staff and contractors about the importance of traditional knowledge to Inuit identity.