Vale Targets Pristine Lake for [Mine] Tailings – by Linda Diebel (Toronto Star-September 11, 2010)

Linda Diebel is a National Writer for the Toronto Star, which has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on Canada’s federal and provincial politics as well as shaping public opinion. This article was originally published on Saturday, September 11, 2010.

A coalition of environmental groups is fighting to set a national precedent by stopping Brazilian mining giant Vale from dumping 400,000 tonnes a year of toxic tailings into a Newfoundland lake known for its prize-winning trout.

“Sandy Pond is a wonderful, beautiful lake and all aquatic life is going to be annihilated,” said Meera Karunananthan, national water campaigner for the Council of Canadians and a member of the newly-created Sandy Pond Alliance. “The authorities are allowing the company to use our pristine water as one big garbage dump.”

Vale plans to use the lake for waste from a nickel processing plant, set to open in 2013. It’s located near Long Harbour on the Avalon Peninsula in southeastern Newfoundland, about an hour’s drive from St. John’s.

The environmental alliance recently filed a legal challenge in federal court to what they see as a loophole in the Fisheries Act. It allows Canadian lakes to be reclassified as “tailings impoundment areas.”

Once a body of water is reclassified, a company can’t be sued for dumping.

The court challenge, which is being heard in St. John’s, says: “The purpose of the Fisheries Act is to conserve and protect fish habitat. The (government) has enacted regulatory provisions which purport to allow the total annihilation of aquatic life in natural water bodies.”

A win by the Sandy Pond citizens’ coalition would set a legal precedent to stop a practice that’s been used by six companies, including Vale, since a former Liberal government changed the Fisheries Act in 2002. It’s estimated at least 11 more lakes are on the list for reclassification as dump sites.

Activists did not challenge the amendment in 2002 because they thought it would be used only to protect companies from being sued for past practices—not to allow the future destruction of pristine waters.

Yesterday, Vale appealed to the federal court in St. John’s to allow the company intervener status in the challenge. A ruling is expected later this month.

“We don’t consider it a loophole. That’s the law that exists,” said Toronto-based Cory McPhee, Vale’s vice-president of corporate affairs.

He said the company has complied with all federal and provincial regulations, “technical, environmental and social,” in the application process for the plant, which will refine nickel from its mine in Voisey’s Bay, Labrador.

Newfoundland activist Ken Kavanagh, a retired teacher who attended yesterday’s court proceedings in St. John’s, said all Canadians should be concerned about the potential loss of their natural water resources.

“It’s symbolic,” he told the Star. “You might say it’s just Sandy Pond in Newfoundland and Labrador today, but there are many lakes on lists (to allow dumping) in future. It could go on forever . . . what’s to protect any body of water in Canada?”

Added Kavanagh: “The premier (Danny Williams) says no more giveaways for Newfoundland and Labrador, and here they are giving a lake free to a mining company to destroy.”

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