Harper defends Nunavut waste decision – by Mike De Souza (Montreal Gazette – August 25, 2011)


Gold mine allowed to dump in lake; Environmental issues ‘have to be addressed, but that can’t stop development,’ PM says

Prime Minister Stephen Harper pointed to environmental effects of development in Canada’s largest cities Wednesday and defended a government decision to allow a local gold mine to dump its waste into nearby fish habitat.

“Obviously, when you dig holes here you create some environmental issues and those have to be addressed, but that can’t stop development, any more than we would let that stop development in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver,” Harper said, drawing applause from local workers at the Meadowbank gold mine.

“The people here care about the environment. They’re partners in the environment, but they have as much right to development and opportunity as people in any other part of the country.”

The Meadowbank project was launched in recent years by Toronto-based Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd., after a decade-long, $1.4-billion investment that was designed to create hundreds of jobs and regional growth.

Officials from Agnico-Eagle Mines say they are benefiting from booming metal prices and mining more than $1 million worth of gold every day with local workers as well as southern Canadians flown in and out every month, at the company’s expense, to work 14-day shifts, before going home.

The project received a break from Environment Canada, which agreed to designate fish habitat in a nearby lake as a dumping zone for tailings waste.

“There was no reason to destroy this fish habitat other than cost,” said Catherine Coumans, an Ottawa-based research co-ordinator for MiningWatch Canada, an advocacy group. “It is cheaper to dump tailings into natural water bodies than build an on-land impoundment.”

Jean Robitaille, a senior vice president for technical services, explained that the solution minimizes environmental effects of creating a tailings impoundment area on the site, noting that the company is also required to mitigate the effects of its activity and create new habitat for about 3,000 fish in the affected portion of the lake.

“If you look at the big picture, it’s a small footprint,” Robitaille said.

The company, he said, is also dedicated to helping the entire region grow.

“We’re not here just to come and go out and take the gold and leave. We want to develop.”

Stéphane Robert, the company’s environment intendent, said the company is spending $25 million to create new fish habitats in the project, monitoring the effect on such animal species as caribou, birds, wolverines and foxes, and has set aside $48 million to seal the tailings area with four metres of rocks at the end of the project to ensure that the waste remains frozen and buried.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Montreal Gazette website: http://www.montrealgazette.com/technology/Harper+defends+Nunavut+waste+decision/5303812/story.html