Ekati mine expansion in N.W.T. doesn't need Nunavut review: feds

The federal government says the proposed expansion of the N.W.T.'s Ekati diamond mine doesn't need a second environmental review.

That's good news for Dominion Diamond Corporation, which hopes to begin construction on the new open pit in the second half of 2016.

But it's not what the Kitikmeot Inuit Association wanted. It had requested that Nunavut's chief regulator, the Nunavut Impact Review Board, do its own review of the Jay project. That review would come on top of the environmental assessment currently being carried out by the N.W.T.'s Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board (MVEIRB).

The KIA wants the Nunavut review because the Jay project, located south and west of Nunavut's western border with the N.W.T., lies within the Lac de Gras watershed. All water from the watershed goes to the Coppermine River, a popular canoeing destination and source of drinking water and fish for the Inuit of Kugluktuk.

In a letter dated July 13, Bernard Valcourt, the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, turned down the KIA's request, saying he's confident the MVEIRB process will take into account the concerns of the Kitikmeot Inuit.

"Dominion Diamond agrees with Minister Valcourt's decision, which is a vote of confidence in the robust and thorough process carried out by [MVEIRB]," said Elliot Holland, Dominion's vice-president of projects and business development.

"It is also a reflection of the significant engagement on this project with the full range of stakeholders in both Nunavut and the Northwest Territories."

Stanley Anablak, the president of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, could not be reached for comment.

The review board will hold a public hearing in Kugluktuk, said Valcourt.

His decision is "consistent with the federal government's stated position of 'one project, one assessment,'" Valcourt added.

Tom Hoefer, the executive director of the N.W.T. and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, said one environmental assessment can still take into account transboundary concerns.

"[That] was successfully demonstrated during the Diavik [assessment] process when the KIA provided their input on the same concern about potential effects on the Coppermine River," Hoefer said.

Time is of the essence for Dominion Diamond: the company wants to begin mining from the Jay pit before Ekati's existing reserves run out in 2020, and avoid laying off workers. The expansion is expected to add 10 years to the mine.