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Giant Mine's remediation team still has a to-do list

The Giant Mine remediation team opened public hearings in Yellowknife on Monday with some big promises. 

Cleanup team is presenting its remediation plan to Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board this week

Chris MacInnis, left, project director of the Giant Mine Remediation Project, and deputy director Natalie Plato, right. MacInnis said the remediation project will 'provide value to residents, and return a site that is greatly improved.' (Sara Minogue/CBC)

The Giant Mine remediation team opened public hearings in Yellowknife on Monday with some big promises. 

"The project will provide value to residents, and return a site that is greatly improved," said project director Chris MacInnis. 

MacInnis also laid out the stakes of any delays to the cleanup: anywhere from $15 to $20 million in extra costs to the taxpayer for every year the cleanup is delayed. 

The team is presenting its final closure and remediation plan to the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board this week in the hope of obtaining a 20-year water licence and a five-year land use permit. It's the last major hurdle before the $1-billion cleanup finally begins. 

But MacInnis made it clear that the final closure plan may not be completely final. 

"It is only with the confidence of an approved final closure and reclamation plan that the project can complete the final detailed design," MacInnis said. "We have proposed a phased approach to submissions that will present these detailed designs to the board for approval to allow active remediation work at the Giant Mine site to start in 2021."

The all-woman Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, from left to right: Nigit'stil Norbert, Tanya T. MacIntosh, chair Mavis Cli-Michaud, Kimberly Fairman and Camilia Zoe-Chocolate. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

In other remarks, Natalie Plato, the remediation team's deputy director, explained that the team had yet to file a quantitative risk assessment, ordered by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board. She promised that would be done by February, before the water licence is issued. 

She also said a planned stress study, part of the team's health effects monitoring, had yet to take place. The study is expected to look at how stress related to the possibility of arsenic exposure may affect human health. Plato said they don't believe this should be a condition of the water licence, as it will not affect project design, but rather, how the project engages with the public.

The board will hold four more days of hearings — on top of months of presentations — to determine whether that phased approach can satisfy all parties who want to see the work done right.

'An opportunity to reconcile'

More than 100 people attended Monday's session.

At least one interested person is confident the project is going in the right direction.

Ed Sangris, Dettah chief for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, opened his remarks by saying that Giant Mine "significantly and fundamentally changed the people of the Yellowknives Dene." 

And while Sangris said it was a little strange to be holding hearings after so much important work at the site had already happened, such as the dismantling of the roasting complex and the removal of the headframe (both deemed safety priorities), he's optimistic about the process. 

'Giant Mine has never benefited the Yellowknives Dene,' said Ed Sangris, Dettah chief for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. 'We were not consulted and we did not receive any compensation from Giant.' (Sara Minogue/CBC)

"Giant Mine has never benefited the Yellowknives Dene. We were not consulted and we did not receive any compensation from Giant," he said. 

"With this process, we have the opportunity … to return to what was taken from us, the opportunity to reconcile with the past, the opportunity to change."

The hearings continue on Tuesday. Members of the public who want to ask questions or make comments can attend one of two evening sessions, Tuesday and Wednesday.

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