No consensus yet on use of Giant Mine lands after cleanup

Discussion continues on just what the site of Yellowknife's Giant Mine should look like once a $900 million cleanup is complete, but consensus has yet to emerge.

'There's a big monster underground,' says William Lines of the Yellowknives Dene

People gathered in Dettah, N.W.T., this week to talk about the future of the Giant Mine site. Members of the Yellowknives Dene do not want future land use. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Discussion continues on what the site of Yellowknife's Giant Mine should look like once a $900-million cleanup is complete, but consensus has yet to emerge.

The team in charge of remediating the site has been consulting with the public since last spring. At a meeting in Dettah this week it presented those ideas in six possible scenarios for the surface design.

One option includes turning tailings ponds into green spaces and opening up the shoreline and former town site for recreation, and even housing. Another option would see a fence limit access to the entire site, even excluding fish which would be blocked by special screens at the entrance to Baker Creek. Yet another option would reroute Baker Creek away from the site.

People are divided on which approach makes the most sense.

"We've heard two very different sides to that story," said Natalie Plato, deputy director of the federal government's Giant Mine Remediation Project.

"The Yellowknives Dene do not want future land use. They want it to be remembered as a contaminated site.

"And we have heard from others they want to see future use on the site, for instance walking trails, a museum and even potential residential development in the town site area."

What is common to all options is that there will be a memorial or interpretive centre on the mine's history and environmental legacy as well as the history and culture of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. 

In all scenarios, a fence will go up around the core area, where the team plans to freeze 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide in perpetuity.

All of the site's nearly 100 buildings will be demolished unless they have historic value.

'There's a big monster underground'

Yellowknife prospector Walt Humphries is one person who supports reclaiming the land for the public.

"There's a lot of interesting in geology out there," he said. "We'd like to establish some walking trails for geology to show people the rocks and minerals."

But Yellowknives Dene member William Lines says his First Nation doesn't want anyone using that land.

"It could lead to a big community. There's 237,000 tonnes of arsenic. We don't want that being touched or disturbed. There's a big monster underground."

Johanne Black, director of lands and environment for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, says no matter what happens, she wants the site to be as clean as possible, without erasing the mine's legacy.

"Fifty years from now our kids will ask what us, 'Why does that land look like that?' That will promote the communication piece of the site and we can let them know… there's arsenic there.

"It's a very dangerous site."

Remediation still years away

The project team will review the top ideas and finalize the remediation plan. It will then need regulatory approval before work can start, and approval won't happen until at least 2017.

Remediation above and below ground won't likely begin before 2020-2021.

Plato says once the cleanup is complete, the land will be turned over to the Commissioner of the N.W.T., which will work with the City of Yellowknife and the Yellowknives Dene to determine the future land use.