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$550 million diamond mine hits snag
Impact of phosphorus on lake, contractors' Northern hiring among gaps identified

Guy Quenneville
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, March 30, 2011

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - A panel struck by the NWT's chief environmental board is asking De Beers Canada to provide more details regarding the company's plan to develop what could be Yellowknife's fourth diamond mine.

NNSL photo/graphic

Paul Cobban, permitting manager for De Beers Canada, right, delivers the environmental impact statement for the company's proposed Gahcho Kue diamond mine at the office of the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board and the panel manager of the Gahcho Kue Environmental Impact Review Panel, Alan Ehrlich, left, in late December. - photo courtesy of De Beers Canada

In a letter dated March 17, the Gahcho Kue Environmental Impact Review Panel identified five gaps in De Beers' environmental impact statement for Gahcho Kue, a diamond project located 180 km northeast of Yellowknife.

The company has until May 2 to submit its detailed response to the panel.

"It's not unusual for a developer to not be able to come up with detailed answers to every single question the first time," Paul Ehrlich, the panel manager, told Yellowknifer on Monday. "So occasionally we'll point them toward where they need to put a little bit more effort before we can go forward. That's what this is."

Among the missing items: an assessment of the potential effects of releasing waste phosphorus into parts of Kennady Lake (under which Gahcho Kue's three deposits lie), as well as a description of how De Beers will require its contractors to beef up their regional and aboriginal staff numbers.

"We support those types of measures and we are encouraged to see a regulatory body kind of evaluating projects enough that they've actually flagged some of those issues," said Phil Moon Son, executive director of the NWT Construction Association.

"It shows that they're actually doing a good job at doing a thorough evaluation."

The independent panel - which was struck by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board - also requested further information on how Gahcho Kue will be impacted by the waning mine-lives of the Ekati, Diavik and Snap Lake diamond mines (the latter of which is operated by De Beers); the company's long-term management plans for processing kimberlite in permafrost conditions; and the potential impacts of the mine on cultural activities.

According to Ehrlich, the requested information is needed before the panel can proceed to the next stage of the review, during which participants (communities, NGOs, government departments) will request more detailed information from De Beers about the project and its potential impacts.

"They start applying a higher level of scrutiny to (De Beers') predictions," he said.

Ehrlich said De Beer's submission - while acknowledging that phosphorus levels could change in Kennady Lake as a result of mine activities - did not specifically address the potential impacts.

"We're telling them, 'Look into it now,'" he said.

Cathie Bolstad, spokesperson for De Beers Canada, said the company's permitting team is busy determining the scope of work required.

"The team has reviewed the deficiency statement," said Bolstad. "What they're doing now is they're comparing that to the original terms of reference (for the environmental impact statement), which is important, and they're determining the way forward to close the gap - e.g. what specific work needs to be done to address those deficiencies.

"At this point we're just determining what that work is and we will absolutely provide a response to the panel."

Ultimately, Gahcho Kue's environmental impact review must be completed before regulators, including the Mackenzie Land and Water Board, can grant De Beers the permits required to build and operate the mine.

Gahcho Kue has an estimated mine-life of 11 years and could employ 360 workers during operations, according to De Beers. It's expected to cost $550 million to build, according Mountain Province Diamonds, De Beers' partner on the joint venture.

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