Lutsel K’e First Nation says board caved to De Beers in Snap Lake decision – by Guy Quenneville (CBC News North – June 26, 2015)

First Nation’s land manager says De Beers issued ‘ultimatum’ to board to have dissolved solids limit increased

The manager of environment for the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (LKDFN) says the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board has caved in to pressure from De Beers Canada, the owner of the N.W.T.’s Snap Lake diamond mine.

On Thursday, the board recommended changes to De Beers’ water licence for Snap Lake — changes that De Beers hopes will make it easier for the company to manage a higher than expected volume of underground water rich in total dissolved solids, and which, according to the company, are needed to keep the mine from closing prematurely.

But Peter Unger, the manager of wildlife, lands and environment for the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation, says De Beers is just playing hardball to get what it wants

“It’s very difficult to not see that as a form of threat, really,” said Unger. “That is one of the things that disturbs us: the mining company was able to come in and basically issue an ultimatum to the board. And it kind of looks like that ultimatum worked.”

In its decision, the land and water board cited a number of conclusions. Among them: that the premature closing of Snap Lake is “a very undesirable result given the many economic benefits of the mine to date.”

Unger says the board’s decision, if approved by N.W.T. environment minister Michael Miltenberger, may set a dangerous precedent for other projects.

“The mine was established under a certain set of conditions, and then afterwards the mine is now able to just change them when they weren’t able to meet them, without too much of a hassle and without really that much of an effort to find other ways to meet the original conditions of the water licence.”

The Lutsel K’e band has said it’s worried that a change in the way Snap Lake water tastes might deter traditional land users from drinking the water.

De Beers has responded by saying that the quality of Snap Lake water will return to “acceptable levels” four to seven years after Snap Lake closes in 2028.

“LKDFN does not have very strong confidence in De Beers’ predictions,” said Unger. “The reason they needed this amendment is because their original predictions were incorrect. That doesn’t really inspire lots of confidence.”

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