COMMENT: Quebec okays controversial Arnaud apatite [phosphate rock] mine – by Marilyn Scales (Canadian Mining Journal – March 19, 2015)

Marilyn Scales is a field editor for the Canadian Mining Journal, Canada’s first mining publication. She is one of Canada’s most senior mining commentators.

One of the hottest topics debated by residents of the town of Sept-Isles, QC, lately has been the fate of the proposed Arnaud open pit apatite mine. The project is owned by Invstissement Quebec and Yara International, a Norwegian fertilizer manufacturer.

Not surprisingly many residents of the North Shore town are wildly opposed to a large open pit on the edge of town. Even the Bureau d’audiences publicques sur l’environement (BAPE) said the project was “unacceptable” in its present form last year. The bureau cited the risk of water contamination and landslides.

Union members and the potential pool of workers for the project insist it must go ahead if the region is to have any economic hope. The Arnaud mine would create perhaps 330 jobs over its 30 year life, and it would be a welcome step toward diversifying the local economy.

Then on Monday, March 16, 2015, Quebec environment minister David Heurtel gave the project the province’s blessing. He said the operator has agreed to 11 conditions spelled out by BAPE to lessen the impact of the mine. And the new development is in line with the province’s Plan Nord.

Construction at the mine is expected to begin early next year and last until late 2018.

Perhaps opposition to the Arnaud mine is so stiff because Yara is relatively unknown in eastern Canada. Yet the Norwegian company has been operating the Belle Plaine granulation plant in near Regina, SK, for several years. Annual production capacity is 700,000 tonnes of ammonia and 1.2 million tonnes of urea and urea nitrate annually.

The Arnaud project is likely to continue to be a sore point within the Sept-Iles community. The opponents may resort to the courts to stop development. Those who seek the benefits will be equally eager to silence opposition.

So it is particularly germane that the Montreal Economic Institute (see below) has studied successful models for developing resources and aboriginal communities simultaneously. Perhaps some of those lessons could be adapted to ease the tensions on the North Shore.