SEPT-ÎLES, Que. – The Quebec government is expected to make a decision any day now on the development of Canada’s largest open-pit mine near an inhabited area.
Environment Minister David Heurtel is trying to balance a difficult economic situation in Quebec’s North Shore with serious environmental concerns. If it is approved, the Arnaud mining project will extract apatite, phosphate minerals used for fertilizers, roughly six kilometers as the crow flies from downtown Sept-Îles.
The Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE), an independent agency that reports to the Ministry, said in a report last year that the project was “unacceptable” in its present form. The risk of water contamination and landslides are simply too high, said BAPE, an advisory body that has no decision-making power.
Sept-Îles is located in Quebec’s northeastern territories, approximately 600 kilometers from Quebec City. Its economy is heavily dependent on mining by large, multinational companies, but it has taken a severe blow with recent layoffs at Cliffs Natural Resources.
According to its supporters, the Arnaud mine would create jobs and diversify the local economy. But opponents say having an open-pit mine within city limits is too risky. Sept-Îles currently has just one source of drinking water and no alternatives in case of contamination. The possibility of landslides damaging nearby power lines could seriously compromise Hydro-Québec’s electricity supply for the rest of the province.
Investissement Québec (IQ) and Yara International ASA, a Norwegian fertilizer multinational, are the shareholders in Mine Arnaud Inc. If the project is approved, the phosphate rock will travel from Sept-Îles to Norway to be transformed into fertilizer. The mine is expected to be in operation for 23 to 30 years.
Several people interviewed by Le Huffington Post Québec expressed concern over past and present corruption accusations against Yara, as well as the financial risk involved for IQ.
Yara was found guilty in January, 2014, of corruption in Libya, India and Russia, and sentenced to pay 295 million kroner ($48.5 million US) in damages, something unheard of in Norway’s corporate history. Four high-ranking officials within the company were also indicted for their involvement and are currently on trial.
Investissement Québec spokesperson Chantal Corbeil doesn’t believe the recent indictments for corruption are a cause for concern. She says the multinational acted quickly when it discovered irregularities.
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