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Mine monitoring inadequate, say First Nations

Andrew Raven
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 19/05) - Aboriginal groups closed ranks against diamond giant Diavik last week, saying the company has not done enough to protect the environment around its mine.

NNSL Photo/graphic

James Marlowe and Monica Krieger, members of an environmental committee from Lutsel K'e, expressed their frustration with officials at the Diavik Diamond Mine during hearings in Yellowknife last week. - Andrew Raven/NNSL photo

"We want to protect our land, our air and our water," said James Marlowe, a member of a Lutsel K'e wildlife committee. "Diavik has to clean up its act (and) do its work."

The comments came Thursday after three-days of technical hearings by the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board. Diavik has applied to extend its water licence for 15 years. Its current five-year permit expires in 2007.

Members of the Akaitcho and Tlicho First Nations voiced their opposition to the proposal, accusing Diavik of violating the "intent" of its current water licence and saying the 15-year extension is too long.

"To assume that everything will remain the same is naive," said Monica Krieger, an environmental consultant for the Lutsel K'e band.

Don MacDonald, an aquatic biologist working for the Tlicho government, listed several issues. including:

  • A dearth of reliable "baseline" data on the naturally occurring chemicals and nutrients in the lake;
  • A flawed monitoring system that is not "the effective early-warning system" it was designed to be; and,
  • An "under-developed" plan for shutting down the mine, something forecast for between 2019 and 2025.

Those problems mean no-one can really be sure what is happening at Diavik, he said.

The $1.3 billion mine is at Lac de Gras, about 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife. The company built a massive dike and pumped out water to get at diamond deposits under the 60-kilometre long lake.

There is no evidence pollution from the mine has affected fish or the 100 species of birds and mammals that in the area. Diavik received high marks from a environmental monitoring board last October.

That hasn't satisfied First Nations, who want solid baseline data and a strict monitoring program to assure them what's happening in their territory is safe.

"This is our backyard. This is our food supply. We need some comfort," said Chris Heron, with the Northwest Territories Metis Nation.

The aboriginal groups also expressed their frustration with the water board, which they chastised for not doing enough to enforce environmental regulations.

"Political interference can do a lot of damage," said Marlowe, who stopped short of threatening legal action during an interview with News/North after the hearing.

He suggested the Lutsel K'e First Nation could appeal to the federal government under an interim land-claim agreement. "When we say: 'Do something,' you should do it," he told company officials.

A Diavik representative did not return a message seeking comment before deadline.

Full public hearings into the water licence application are scheduled to begin March 8.