A Nunaut regulator has given mining company Agnico Eagle a "significant rebuke" over a controversial pipeline proposal for the Meliadine gold mine near Rankin Inlet.
"It's a significant rebuke in my view that [the Nunavut Impact Review Board] issued," Tagak Curley, vice-president of the Kivalliq Inuit Association told CBC.
The board's decision, posted online July 17, halts the company's plan to build two pipelines to discharge saline water from the underground mine until the company provides more information, research and public engagement.
Curley said Agnico has tried to take advantage of COVID-19 restrictions to push through a significant change to their mining operations.
"We're not compromising. The gold prices are good, the project is going to continue. But they've got to make sure all infrastructure projects … comply with protecting the environment and the wildlife," he said.
This spring, two separate but related applications from Agnico found their way to the board. Both applications aim to address a growing problem at Meliadine: saline water leaking into the mine is greater than the company planned for.
Currently that excess water is trucked from the mine to Melvin Bay.
One application asked for a temporary fix, to allow the company to increase its allowable discharge of 800 cubic metres and 32 one-way truck trips to 1,600 cubic metres and 88 one-way trips.
This is the second time since 2018 Agnico has asked for an increase to those numbers. The Nunavut Impact Review Board approved temporary measures for the 2020 season, until the end of October.
2 pipes as long-term solution: company
The second application Agnico submitted called for a longer-term solution. The company wants to install two 16-inch, 34-kilometres-long pipes to Melvin Bay.
The pipelines would discharge 6,000 to 12,000 cubic metres — the equivalent of 150 to 300 trucks per day — between May and October, according to Agnico.
[Agnico's] claim that the community was consulted is at best weak, to be polite. - Brian Zawadski in comments to review board
In its initial submissions, Agnico said an assessment of the impact based on data, expert opinion and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit showed it would not "have much impact on the environment."
"Feedback from consultation efforts ... showed that the community was neutral and most concerns were addressed," Agnico wrote.
Agnico suggested approval for the pipeline could happen by September or October to allow construction this year.
The board ruled against Agnico and said the proposal was a significant change and may require amendments to the overall project certificate.
In the July 17 decision, the Nunavut Impact Review Board outlined four items for which Agnico had to provide more information on before a technical review could be scheduled, including supporting evidence for environmental impacts and incorporation of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit.
Comments from community members and organizations use stronger language.
"[Agnico's] claim that the community was consulted is at best weak, to be polite," one local, Brian Zawadski said in comments to the review board.
Zawadski submitted photos and videos that he said shows evidence that caribou herds would not cross the current 10-inch pipe that supplies the hamlet with water.
'Major impact on caribou migration': hunters org
Andrew Akerolik, manager of the Kangiqliniq Hunters and Trappers Organization, told CBC News he made the same observations himself.
"The pipeline's going to have a major impact on caribou migration ... They're trying to rush things to get the pipeline done with no concerns for wildlife," Akerolik said.
Akerolik started a petition in late June with the permission from the hunters organization to stop Agnico from going ahead with the project. The petition currently has more than 600 signatures.
"The mine should understand and get educated on where we stand and where we come from," Akerolik said.
In its submission to the review board, the Kivalliq Wildlife Board said it had "serious concerns" about Agnico's caribou monitoring and water quality reporting to date.
And Curley, from the Kivalliq Inuit Association, said Agnico has to first engage meaningfully and inform locals.
"There are significant concerns, and rightly so, from people of Rankin Inlet," Curley said. "They have the right to be heard."
Agnico acted in 'good faith': manager
Frédéric Langevin, Agnico's general manager at Meliadine, told CBC the company has acted in "good faith" throughout this application process.
"It's an important project for us, but we won't sacrifice our transparency and our values to push a project like this against people's consent," Langevin said.
Agnico did not try to avoid public consultation but honestly thought the double pipeline proposal was a minor modification to mine operations, he added.
"Apparently the public feels different, and we respect that and we're more than willing to go through a lengthy process," he said.
Langevin provided answers to specific concerns raised by community members and organizations, including that Agnico would:
- Build up to 70 crossings for caribou and recreational vehicles to cross the pipelines.
- Monitor this year's caribou herd to collect more meaningful data.
- Provide plain-language documents to better engage locals.
Langevin said Agnico will provide a response to the review board "fairly shortly" because "the timeline is important."
"The sooner [we start] the construction of this project, the sooner we'll be in a better position to basically face the future," he said.