Feds agree Agnico Eagle's Whale Tail Pit project should go to full environmental review

The federal government is backing the Nunavut Impact Review Board's decision to require a full environmental review of Agnico Eagle Mines's proposed Whale Tail Pit project, but it's unwilling to commit money to help community groups participate in the process.

Minister turns down participant funding to help community groups take part in review

Gold miners at 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 government is backing the Nunavut Impact Review Board's decision to require a full environmental review of Agnico Eagle Mines's proposed Whale Tail Pit project, but it's unwilling to commit money to help community groups participate in the process.

"We're certainly pleased that the minister has written back and supported the board's determination," said Ryan Barry, executive director of the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

Ryan Barry, executive director of the Nunavut Impact Review Board, calls participant funding 'a missing piece of Nunavut's regulatory systems.' (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

The Whale Tail Pit is a proposed open pit gold mining operation about 50 kilometres northwest of Agnico Eagle's Meadowbank gold mine near Baker Lake. The company proposes to haul ore mined from the pit to Meadowbank for processing. It expects operations to start by 2018 and last three to four years.

The Nunavut board sent its decision on the project to the federal minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs for review on Aug. 18.

The Sept. 1 response from INAC supports the board's call for an examination of the cumulative effects of the project given the increasing levels of mineral development in the Kivalliq region.

The full environmental review process will likely take up to a year to complete on this project, said Barry, and will need to involve all affected communities in the region.

'Our government is starting to listen'

Barnie Aggark, mayor of Chesterfield Inlet and chair of the local hunters and trappers organization, says the federal government's decision gives him hope.

Barnie Aggark, mayor of Chesterfield Inlet, said he's happy the project will go to an environmental review. (submitted by Barnie Aggark)

"I'm really happy about it because it shows that our government is starting to listen to the concerns that we had right from the start," said Aggark.

Community groups across the Kivalliq region have been lobbying for years to have tougher environmental controls to protect their water, sea mammals and caribou populations in the face of increased mining activity.

"We feel a bit better that they're taking the extra step now to making sure that the land is properly taken care of and that it doesn't just become a big mess wherever they go to work," he said.

Missing piece

But though the federal government supports the decision for a full environmental review of the Whale Tail Pit project, it said it will not provide participant funding to assist affected groups with participation in the review.

NIRB had asked INAC to consider providing participant funding as affected organizations have limited capacity to participate, in part because of the current amount of development occurring within the region. 

Communities across the Kivalliq region will be involved in the environmental review, but they will not get money from the federal government to help prepare their submissions.

When available, participant funding could be used to prepare technical documents and submissions that can be presented in the review process by community groups as evidence and consideration.

Currently there is no formal participant funding program in Nunavut; the federal government has provided funding for a few projects in Nunavut on a case by case basis.

Aggark said he's disappointed that in Nunavut, community groups are not always given the necessary resources to participate meaningfully in environmental reviews.

"I think the voices of the local hunters and trappers organizations and the knowledge of the elders are needed to participate in these events when they're making decisions, because they're the ones with the knowledge of the land," he said.

Barry said other review boards such as the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency have dedicated pools of participant funding. He said in some cases there is also specific funding for Aboriginal groups to participate in these proceedings.

"This is something we've advocated for a long time because we see it as a missing piece of Nunavut's regulatory systems," said Barry.

About the Author

Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.