The Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) says a proposal to extend Agnico Eagle's Meliadine gold mine should not be allowed to proceed.
Agnico Eagle's proposal would have extended the mine's life by 11 years, to 2043, and built an 11-turbine wind farm to power the mine.
In a 255-page document released late Friday, the NIRB said the mine, which opened in 2015 and is 25 kilometres from Rankin Inlet, should not expand at this time, "due to the considerable uncertainty of the potential for the proposal to have negative, lasting effects on caribou, and the uncertainty of cumulative effects."
In a statement to CBC, Agnico Eagle said it is "surprised and disappointed" by the recommendation.
"On first reading, it appears that the scientific studies submitted to the NIRB regarding the impacts of the project have not received all the consideration they deserve in several respects," said Agnico Eagle spokesperson Natalie Frackleton.
"We will take the time to fully review and understand the NIRB's recommendation report and assess our next steps before making any further comments."
Frackleton also said the extension would have created additional job opportunities and continued "Agnico's 15-year history of environmental commitments in the region."
The sign on the all-weather access road to Agnico Eagle's Meliadine Mine near Rankin Inlet. The Nunavut Impact Review Board has decided that Agnico Eagle's proposal to extend its Meliadine gold mine should be allowed to proceed. The decision comes after nearly a year and a half of assessing the proposed expansion. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada)
The board's assessment began in April 2022 and ended with an eight-day hearing in Rankin Inlet in September 2023.
Uncertain 'scope of effects'
That hearing was dominated by community concerns about the mine's impacts on caribou.
"The board noted high levels of uncertainty as to whether existing or modified mitigation measures would be sufficiently protective to prevent or manage negative effects from the extension proposal on caribou; especially when considering critical calving and post-calving periods," the board wrote.
The board noted in its decision that while there is too much uncertainty around the current proposal, it encouraged Agnico to resubmit in the future.
"The additional experience and monitoring results may create a clearer picture of the abundance, health and movement of caribou near the mine," the board wrote.
It also noted that there is much support throughout the Kivalliq region for the mine.
"While the Board recognizes the support in the Kivalliq communities for the economic benefits that the Extension Proposal represents, the Board has identified that there is considerable uncertainty in relation to the scale and scope of effects," NIRB wrote.
The final public hearing also heard concerns about the water quality in Meliadine Lake and its downstream rivers and "the current level of discharges from the approved project of surface contact water, treated sewage and saline groundwater into Meliadine Lake."
The company's proposed location for the wind farm, which was near the mine site, also faced widespread criticism from every intervenor at the hearing over concerns about its impacts on caribou.
On the hearing's final day, Agnico Eagle changed its position, saying it would not build the wind farm in the originally proposed location and would instead work with the Kivalliq Inuit Association to find a suitable location.
Throughout the hearing, Agnico Eagle received pushback from Inuit organizations, the Government of Nunavut and the Rankin Inlet Hunters and Trappers Organization as well as members of the public over the proposed location for the wind farm, because of its proximity to caribou calving grounds.
Federal Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal has the final say on the mine's proposal. He has 90-180 days from the date of NIRB's decision to either accept or reject it.