A resident of St. Lewis, Labrador is expressing concerns for his community's local water supply and environment as Search Minerals, a rare-earth mining company, moves its operation closer to town.
Warwick Chubbs says the company has been working in the area of St. Lewis for two years but things are getting a little too close for comfort for the town of just under 200 people.
"We should know that if this mining goes ahead there, we're going to have a lot of snow in the winter down around them hills ... and in the spring of the year, when we get a lot of rain, you can go into the pond and that side of the pond is flooded with water that's draining," he said.
"The water that runs drains from that hill is going to run directly into our water supply."
Further concerns for Chubbs is the fact that the company also needs to tie into the town's water supply to pump water for its drilling equipment.
He said the town hesitated on the idea, so the company went to the provincial government instead.
"There was a small pond not too far from where they were drilling, pretty close, and they had their water line into that pond supplying their drill rig with water. Since we haven't had any rain for quite a while, the pond had gone dry," said Chubbs.
"The government gave them the go ahead to put their water line into our water supply until they finish drilling this year. I had heard after this year they won't be allowed to put their line into our water supply."
But the company's chief operating officer says the approval to work within the protected water supply area has been in place since 2016. What's more, the company hasn't used that water for drilling to date but the option is approved.
"We've got a small camp in St. Lewis, so we're drawing water from our own source there. We also have a couple of trailers down in the town site itself so we're on the town water supply to supply those," said Todd Burlingame, chief operating officer of Search Minerals.
"With respect to the drilling operations, we have not yet accessed the Fox Harbour Pond, which is a feeder into the town water supply."
Pond inspections agreement
Burlingame said mining operations haven't started yet but the company is in the midst of drilling as part of the exploration for rare-earth elements.
He said the company is aware and understands the concerns of the community but is doing its best to keep the public informed of its operations. There is a condition in exploration licences, said Burlingame, where water use is outlined over the course of the program to estimate the usage.
"When we were drawing upon this season, on an unnamed pond on the property, it didn't get drained dry. It just got low enough that we decided to stop drawing from it," he said.
"We went to the town and let them know that we wanted to now move down and put in a hose into the Fox Harbour Pond water supply to supply the drill program and continue on."
Burlingame said the company also received a letter from the town earlier this week, saying it was comfortable with Search Minerals drawing water from Fox Harbour Pond to complete the 2022 drilling program. Daily inspections of the pond were agreed upon.
"They could come in and conduct their own inspections and we would cover the costs for those as well," he said.
"Our daily inspection reports will be compiled and submitted weekly to both the town and NunatuKavut and they will be bringing their own people on site periodically throughout the remainder of the program."