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Comments on the Environmental Assessment of the Victor Diamond Project

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

October 28, 2004

Lise-Aurore Lapalme
Natural Resources Canada
580 Booth Street, 10th Floor
Ottawa, ON K1A 0E4

Paul Schafer
Senior Program Officer, Ontario Region
Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
907-55 St. Clair Avenue East
Toronto, ON M4T 1M2

Re: Comprehensive Study Report, Victor Project, FEAI number 40568

I am writing to provide the comments of MiningWatch Canada on the Environmental Assessment of the Victor Diamond Project at Attawapiskat.

Financial concerns

1. We are concerned that the proponent is DeBeers Canada, a corporate entity that is separately incorporated from its transnational parent. Liability will therefore rest with a company that has only the Victor operation as an asset. We respectfully request that the government make every effort to have the parent company guarantee the commitments made by DeBeers Canada, and that a reclamation security in cash be taken up front to fully cover the costs of reclamation and closure of the project.

2. We are concerned that a realistic approach be taken to the economic benefits anticipated from the project, by all levels of government and the communities affected. This mine does not have a long life and there is no realistic opportunity for value added production. The potential for a boom followed by a “bust” is great, and every effort should be made to hedge the most affected northern communities against this eventuality, through resource sharing, effective tax measures, and appropriate community economic development strategies.

The EA does not address the potential expansion of the Mine to up to 16 pits

3. The letter from David Simms dated October 15/04 makes it clear that DeBeers is intending to expand the footprint of the mine to up to 16 pits before the mine’s life is over. “With the Victor mine infrastructure in place, there is a reasonable probability that some of these kimberlites might eventually prove to be mineable”. The EA should take this possibility into account, and assure that there will be full EA on any other pits, or include them in this EA.

Lack of EA for the contingency road from Hearst to Attawapiskat

4. It is clear that most communities in the North have come to understand that the northern winter road (the preferred option) will only be used for year one and two of the project and that by year three, DeBeers intends to use a winter road from Hearst to Attawapiskat. DeBeers has been negotiating this option with First Nations on the route. It is worrisome that only the “preferred alternative” is examined in the CSR, when it has become common knowledge that the road from Hearst is to follow within a few years time. The road has enormous implications for the Boreal Forest, as it will open up a previously pristine area to logging, hunting, more mines and tourism. Even DeBeers describes this road as a “contingency” in its letter of August 27, 2004 to Paul Schafer.

5. The winter roads will be private roads owned and controlled by DeBeers. What are the implications of this for the communities on the route?

Effects on water

6. We concur with the submissions from Nishnawbe Aski Nation prepared by T.D. Pearse Resource Consulting, Stephen Wilbur and Macdonald Environmental Sciences regarding the effects on water. The response from AMEC dated October 15, 2004 indicates that the company has continued to update the Comprehensive Study as the comment period has progressed. For example the September 2004 HCI hydro-geological model report does not form part of the original CSR. This presents a dilemma for those of us attempting to comment on the EA. Which version are we in fact responding to?

The Wilbur, Pearse and MacDonald reviews of the EA make the following important points, which are not answered by the Simms letter.

7. There is not a conservative approach in assessing the potential effects of the drawdown of the Nayshkatooyaow River. Removing the water from the pit(s) will result in a huge “come of depression” in the groundwater level in the surrounding rocks, and will quickly draw down the levels of flow in the Nayshkatooyaow River, especially in the winter months. The problem will be greater as the size of the pit deepens. Dr. Wilbur’s report clearly spells out the concerns with this drawdown, which may affect as much as 1950 km2 of muskeg.

8. There is potential for metals leaching and acid mine drainage from the waste rock piles and kimberlite. There is evidence from the Ekati Mine that acidic waters in the muskeg may create conditions for acid mine drainage. For this reason, the Ekati consultant, SRK, recommends against placing the kimberlite directly on the muskeg, and recommends placing the rock on a limestone pad.

9. Nickel can leach in neutral conditions, and should be monitored.

10. The predicted levels of ammonia and suspended solids in the Nayshkootayaow River caused by the mining activity may be underestimated. We are not reassured by Mr. Simms’ response to this concern.

11. A meromictic lake will be created when the pit is flooded, and this can be avoided by backfilling the pit with waste rock and tailings. AMEC says this is not cost effective. What is the basis upon which this was decided?

12. Water quality, sediment and benthic invertebrate data collected to date from the rivers are all insufficient to describe the baseline conditions on site. We are pleased to see a commitment by the company to obtain this data.

13. TEK could have been more properly used to design the fish surveys.

14. The risk assessment for human consumption of fish did not take into account he higher consumption patterns of Aboriginal people.

15. The extent to which the drawdown might change water chemistry in the Nayshkootayaow River and the Lawashi River was not evaluated, nor has it effects on aquatic organisms.

16. The flow in the river should be restored to normal, not 85%.

Manganese and iron

17. We note that there are high levels of manganese and iron found in many of the groundwater and surface water tests, indicating their presence in the surrounding rock. Iron and manganese can leach in neutral conditions. The EA needs to address the possibility that mining activities may elevate the presence of these minerals to levels harmful to humans and animals.

Inadequate socio-economic studies and analysis

18. The socio-economic baselines studies are weak and confined only to the community of Attawapiskat, but a project of this size will have implications for the other communities in the region. An IBA is being negotiated only with Attawapiskat First Nation. The cumulative social and economic effects in the region, up to and including closure should have been addressed in the EA. The mine is only expected to last 12 years, and the implications of heightened expectations followed by closure are substantial. The response of DeBeers to comments about this to date, points to three specific issues: 1) that any community socio-economic assessment cannot be rushed and needs to be done in the time the community needs – not the company, and 2) that any appropriate socio-economic assessment has to be conducted by the communities concerned as a participatory research exercise, and that 3) the communities need to own the data and determine what parts are released to the company.

19. Further, it should not be assumed that there will be no negative effects on the other James Bay, Boreal communities, Hearst and Timmins from the project, when we have already seen the impacts of the rush of diamond prospecting, and the huge commitments of social energy from community leadership in dealing with these impacts.

Inadequate closure plan and/or access to review the closure plan

20. The closure plan summary provided in the CSR is not adequate. Only a summary of the closure plan has been available for review by parties other than Attawapiskat First Nation. All parties must have the right to review a detailed closure plan before the mine is permitted. The closure plan should include the following elements:

  • Detailed description of work in each of the following areas of focus: topsoil replacement or salvage, recontouring, revegetation, slope stability and erosion control, hydrology, and restoration of the pit-lake, air and water quality, public health & safety including maintenance of the winter roads, wildlife habitat, and esthetics, including visual impact.
  • Plans for risk assessments at the end of the mine: ecological, human health, and engineering, including potential for and prevention of leaching and transport of contaminants from the tailing area, rock dumps, precipitates and residues, mine workings and landfill areas, need for long term treatment, and how passive structures will be designed to safely accommodate storm/ flood events.
  • Demonstration of long run success of reclamation at other mines under similar geo-chemical circumstances or using similar reclamation techniques.
  • Plan for dismantling and proper disposal of facilities and removal of refuse, debris and hazardous materials.
  • Analysis and costing of alternative reclamation techniques including preferred alternative, based on full cost accounting/life cycle costing techniques that address costs that will be incurred in another jurisdiction.
  • Identification of reclamation personnel and demonstration of their qualifications, including personnel responsible for reclamation if production ceases with or without official closure.
  • Demonstration of successful reclamation record of the mine proponent and relevant parent companies at other mines.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this Environmental Assessment.

Yours truly,

Joan Kuyek
National Co-ordinator