Residents skeptical about proposed diamond mine near Prince Albert

A proposed diamond mine near Prince Albert is drawing the ire of local residents and a First Nations community, since it will likely impact the surrounding environment and affect a sacred hill used by the community.

Final decision lies with provincial government

This is part of Fort a la Corne provincial forest, which will be affected by the Star-Orion South diamond mine proposed by Shore Gold Inc. (CBC)

A proposed diamond mine near Prince Albert is drawing the ire of local residents and a First Nations community, since it will likely impact the surrounding environment and affect a sacred hill used by the community. 

The Star-Orion Diamond Project was first proposed by Shore Gold Inc. in 1995, and it received a green light from federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq last year in December. The proposed site will cover 9,200 hectares in the Fort à la Corne provincial forest, east of Prince Albert.

The forest itself has one of the largest kimberlite fields in the world. Diamonds can be found in this type of rock. The proposed mine is set to have two open pits that would mine 45,000 tonnes of the rock per day for 20 years. 

It's now up to the province to decide what to do with the mine. Its environment ministry issued a report in January, outlining all of the impacts to the area. 

Local residents not convinced

Tim Thompson is a farmer who lives in nearby Snowden, Sask. He says there are too many unanswered questions in the technical report for the Star Orion South diamond mine site. (CBC)

Tim Thompson has lived near the forest for his entire life. He also farms in the small community of Snowden, Sask. 

He said the report doesn't go far enough.

"How is this going to be done? Where's the water going to come from? Who's going to pay for this? Who's going to heat the tanks in the winter time? It's just a huge bunch of questions that there's no answers to in the report of any sort," he said. 

According to the provincial report, a huge amount of water is needed for day-to-day operations of the mine — approximately 68,900 cubic meters or 27 Olympic-sized swimming pools to operate each day, 

That water would be drawn from nearby aquifers, likely affecting ecosystems on land and in the water, according to the report.

I've lived here my whole life and I care about my community and I care aboutthe people who live here.- Tim Thompson, local farmer

"I've lived here my whole life and I care about my community and I care about the people who live here. If we lose our water and our livelihood is gone, that's not a good thing," Thomspon said.

Myk Brazier and Megan Wilson are building their dream home in the nearby the forest.

The couple said that when they called a well-drilling company to tap into the underground water supply for their future home, the company told them they're wasting their money.

"We were all excited to get our new well and get into our new house and now everything is on hold," Brazier said.

Sacred hill concerns

Then there's the impact to a sacred site in the forest that belongs to the James Smith Cree Nation.

According to the provincial report, archeological evidence supports the fact that traditionally, the forest and its surrounding area were used by First Nation peoples "for social interaction, religious ceremonies and as a source of plants and animals."

The report goes on: "excavation of the Star pit would result in the removal of Spy Hill, identified as a sacred site in the traditional land use study" conducted for the James Smith Cree Nation. 

Shore Gold's proposed solution, according to the report, is "mitigation for impacts to Spy Hill with their preferred option being implementation of socio-cultural benefits, such as supporting programs that would facilitate preservation and transfer of traditional knowledge."

The cost of the project, according to the report, is nearly $2 billion on. The report also said, if built and operational, the mine would employ approximately 700 staff for over 20 years.

Shore Gold has declined to do interviews with CBC News and Radio-Canada.

With files Adrian Cheung and Radio-Canada