Once-rejected gold mine in Kitikmeot gets go-ahead from Nunavut review board

'All participants can be proud of the development of some of the 'best in class' caribou protection measures that Nunavut has ever seen,' said the review board's project chairman Phillip Omingmakyok Kadlun.

Sabina Gold and Silver’s Back River project will proceed to the licensing stage

Phillip Omingmakyok Kadlun chairing the second round of final hearings into the Sabina Back River gold mine hearings in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

After additional hearings, the Nunavut Impact Review Board has reversed its 2016 decision and recommended that the Back River gold mine, proposed by the Sabina Gold and Silver Corporation, move ahead.

The proposed mine site is approximately 400 kilometres southwest of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, where the additional hearings were held.

On July 18, the review board published its revised report, which has been submitted to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, for a final decision.

In a press release, Sabina Gold and Silver said that if the minister accepts the review board's decision, a project certificate could be issued before the end of the year.

Matthew Pickard is Sabina Gold and Silver vice president of environment and sustainability said the company put a lot of work into expanding its environmental impact mitigation plan. (Sabina Gold and Silver Corp.)

On the basis of the review board's approval, the company will begin applying for permits associated with full-scale mine construction, including licence applications to the Nunavut Water Board.

Matthew Pickard, Sabina's vice president of environment and sustainability, said preliminary work on the mine site could start as early as March 2018, with construction moving into full swing by the fall.

He said it will take around $400 million to build the mine and bring it into production. It will employ around 800 people — with about half those on site at any given time. It is projected to have an 11-year production lifespan.

Sabina's Goose property. (Sabina Gold and Silver)

'Best in class' caribou protection

The review board rejected the initial application based on climate change concerns and inadequate protection for wildlife, particularly the Bathurst caribou herd. 

But, that negative assessment was returned to the review board for reconsideration by Bennett after the Nunavut government, the Kitikmeot Inuit Association and Sabina asked that the project get a second look.
Another view of the Goose site. (Sabina Gold and Silver)

"We worked out a lot of the details at the table with the government of Nunavut and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, and also the government of the Northwest Territories, in order to determine exactly how we would do things," Pickard said.

Sabina provided an additional 1,500 pages on its environmental impact mitigation plans, according to Pickard.

"We're pleased ... the additional information that we provided as part of the addendum was able to increase the NIRB's confidence," he said.

"All participants can be proud of the development of some of the 'best in class' caribou protection measures that Nunavut has ever seen," the review board's project chairman Phillip Omingmakyok Kadlun stated in the text of the review board decision.

However, the recommendation cautions: "nice words are not enough and if Sabina's important commitments, plans and programs are not implemented, the effects could be equally as devastating as if no plans were in place at all." 

As a result, it has laid out more than 90 terms and conditions for Sabina to follow.

If the Back River mine is built, it would be the company's only mine.