Cleanup at deserted Nunavut exploration site begins — on local Inuit association's dime

Cleanup at deserted Nunavut exploration site begins — on local Inuit association's dime

Cleanup has begun at an abandoned exploration camp near Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut, years after its owner disappeared from public view.

The mineral exploration site near Josephine Lake — about 35 kilometres southwest of Chesterfield Inlet — was abandoned by owners Shear Diamonds sometime between 2012 and 2013. The company abruptly disappeared from public view, leaving more than one of its sites deserted.

But the Kivalliq Inuit Association, which owns the land on which the site rests, was unable to begin cleanup until the federal government's department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs conducted a site inspection and determined the site was indeed abandoned.

That inspection finally happened in the summer of 2016, according to Kivalliq Inuit Association executive director Gabriel Karlik, paving the way for cleanup to begin. The association sent six staff members and three locals from Chesterfield Inlet to begin cleanup.

"Right now, it's officially cleaned up to a point where the materials are in a secured location," he said. "All the waste material has been burned off. All the big base metals and propane are on a different site right now, and waiting for the next phase."

Local hunters raised concerns about the site prior to the inspection, saying oil drums were rusting and garbage was left scattered on the land. Josephine Lake is a popular fishing site for char, creating concerns that waste could flow into the lake and contaminate the fish.

More than 100 oil drums, each at least 25 per cent full of diesel or aviation fuel, were left on the site, according to the inspection report completed by Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

Who pays?

Karlik says cleanup on the site will occur in three phases. The first, already completed, involved clearing up the site and securing any potential contaminants to minimize risks of contamination.

The next will involve bringing the collected waste to the community of Rankin Inlet, and the third, which is scheduled to take place the following summer, is to ship it south. 

Karlik said because a proper agreement was not signed when mineral explorations for the site were taking place in the early to mid-2000s, the Kivalliq Inuit Association is on the hook to pay cleanup costs. The association has spent about $35,000, and Karlik says he hopes to have a ballpark figure for the full cleanup by the summer.

Since the explorations for the Josephine site began, the association has created a requirement for all exploration companies working on their land to have a security management agreement, ensuring that there is remediation money available for sites once companies are no longer working there.

When asked if there was any way for the association to recoup cleanup costs, Karlik said "we will try, but most likely not," and called the adding of a security requirement "a lesson learned from not just this case, but any others that have happened before."

Karlik said the cleanup team's next site visit is planned this summer, which will include an assessment to determine if any contaminants leaked into the surrounding area.

Correction : A previous version of this story called the site near Josephine Lake a deserted mine. In fact, it was an exploration site.(Apr 07, 2017 12:25 PM)