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Sticking by its decision

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, July 27, 2011

RANKIN INLET - A controversial decision by the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) could delay further development of the Meliadine gold project near Rankin Inlet for up to two years.

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Technical services director Ryan Barry goes over the Nunavut Impact Review Board screening process during a recent meeting. - photo courtesy of Li Wan

The Meliadine project is owned by Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd., which also owns and operates the Meadowbank gold mine near Baker Lake.

NIRB director of technical services Ryan Barry said the board was presented with two different assessments, with the Meliadine road and mine development being put forward as stand-alone projects.

He said the board decided on the road first and the mine a few days later.

"The board felt the road proposal was insufficiently developed because it was too closely linked to the mine development to be considered separately," said Barry.

"The decision on the mine proposal was it requires further review, and it would be prudent for the board to review construction of the all-weather road as a pre-development activity through the course of that review."

Barry said Agnico-Eagle is using fuel delivery for its ongoing exploration and bulk sampling program to justify the road proposal.

He said it's hard to determine how long the road would be delayed by having it included as part of the mine-development proposal.

"We don't know how long it will take Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan to come back and refer this project for review.

"It has typically taken between three months to a year for referrals, but there's no set time for him to do it in.

"The board isn't looking to cause undo delay, and there are provisions within the land claims process to allow for the consideration of pre-development activities."

Barry said NIRB could look at the construction of the road while the review of the mine was ongoing.

He said a review of the whole mine could take up to two years, but consideration of the road could happen anytime within that time frame.

"For that to happen, we'd need the full information required to adequately assess it and a lot of that is related to the mine development.

"If Agnico-Eagle provides that in advance of other parts of its environmental impact statement, it could be considered earlier."

Barry said the minister's options concerning the road are limited to what's in the land claims agreement.

He said Duncan has to return the proposal back to Agnico-Eagle to be modified in one way or another.

"We've recommended it be modified to be included in the mine proposal rather than split the projects, but the minister could direct Agnico-Eagle to modify it in some other way to supply the information we need for assessment purposes in some other fashion.

"If the minister directed the board to reconsider the road proposal as a stand-alone project, it would be required to do that.

"We've never had a decision overturned, and I say that confidently and humbly at the same time, as we fully respect the minister's authority.

"However, we like to believe our decisions are well-founded in fact and presented in such a way as to be well-reasoned out and understood."

NIRB, basically, has four points of contention with the Meliadine road proposal.

It felt there was insufficient and conflicting information in some areas of several submissions supplied by Agnico-Eagle.

The board didn't feel the need to build the road for continued bulk sampling was well-established.

Part of NIRB's conditional approval of the road was based on the case made by the previous owner, Comaplex, that bulk sampling could be carried out with a winter road, leading NIRB to believe that was sufficient.

NIRB felt there was insufficient analysis of the potential for cumulative effects in the separation (project splitting) from the mine development proposal.

And the board raised concerns over the justification for proposing unrestricted public access, and inadequate proposed measures for ensuring safe use and operation of all road users.

Barry said NIRB's mandate is to look at the potential environmental and socio-economic impacts caused by a project, including the positive impact of benefits.

He said it's not NIRB's role to prevent development, but to ensure only responsible, sustainable development is allowed to occur.

"When we look at the practical consequences of a decision of this nature, there's always discussions around the delay of construction time and possible loss of socio-economic benefits and opportunities.

"They make for a difficult decision-making process.

"Our members are beneficiaries who live in Nunavut and understand how these projects are needed.

"But, at the same time, they're very conscious of their mandate."

For Agnico-Eagle's response to the NIRB decision, please see page 12.

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