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Whale Tail mine expansion undergoes public hearings this week in Baker Lake

The Nunavut Impact Review Board is reviewing plans to increase the size of the Whale Tail open pit, to start another open pit near and to start underground mining, which would expand the mine's life to 2025. 

Open pit mine began commercial production this summer

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

Plans to expand the newly opened Whale Tail gold mine, near Baker Lake, Nunavut, are the subject of public hearings this week in the community. 

The Nunavut Impact Review Board is running the consultations Monday through Thursday. 

It's reviewing plans to increase the size of the Whale Tail open pit, to start another open pit near a site called IVR and to start underground mining. 

Community representatives from Baker Lake and other Kivalliq-region communities will have their say at the hearings along with the territorial and federal governments. 

Agnico Eagle began mining operations at Whale Tail this summer with approval to run for three or four years and mine 8.3 million tonnes of ore. 

The expansion would increase the amount of ore to 15.2 million tonnes and extend the life of the mine to 2025. 

There are no processing facilities at Whale Tail, so the gold is transported by long-haul trucks down a 50-kilometre road to Agnico Eagle's Meadowbank mine. 

Road expansion planned 

Other expansion plans for the mine site include widening the road from its current 9.5 metres to 15 metres.

The road expansion and its impact on caribou is the main concern of the Baker Lake hunters and trappers organization (HTO) and the Kivalliq Inuit Association.

Though in their final written comments, both organizations stated they support the expansion. 

Ore from Whale Tail will be processed at Agnico Eagle's existing facilities at the Meadowbank mine site. (CBC)

"Our members told us that the employment opportunities from Meadowbank have had mostly a positive effect on our community," the HTO submission said. 

The Kivalliq Inuit Association stated it felt Agnico Eagle had made commitments to monitoring and procedure changes that would assuage their concerns. 

The mine has promised to analyze how the slope of the road edges, the additional width and how the construction might affect caribou. 

"We've taken a lot of steps, particularly around caribou, given that we've built significant lengths of roads in Nunavut, to make sure when caribou is in the area that we stop heavy traffic," said Sean Boyd, Agnico Eagle's CEO. 

The HTO is worried Inuit hunting practices have changed and it needs to survey the road to make sure lead caribou aren't killed and that animal remains are left on migration routes.  

Agnico Eagle is paying for a monitor position for the road, but the HTO says it believes one person can't adequately monitor the whole area. 

Gold prices rise

The mine is on Inuit-owned land, so the company also pays royalties to the Kivalliq Inuit Association and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

Royalties were expected to be around $450 million over the life of the mine, but as gold prices have gone up this summer the payments are expected to be around $500 million now. 

"The payments should increase, given that gold prices are higher than what the projects were based on when we made the investment decision and the fact that we see them continuing to grow,"  Boyd said.

If the review board finds agreement between the consulted parties it will recommend the expansion go ahead to the federal government, which has final say. 

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