The Kivalliq Inuit Association and the territorial government expressed support for the construction of Agnico Eagle’s waterline from Meliadine Mine to Melvin Bay during the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s (NIRB’s) recent public hearings on the matter.
The meetings, which took place in Rankin Inlet from June 14 to 17, were held to discuss Agnico’s proposal to lay 34 kilometres of twin 41 centimetre pipes from the mine to the ocean to drain saline water that has been accumulating underground.
The company’s plans for the waterline were put on hold in 2020 after NIRB rejected its proposal due to a lack of information. However, there has been growing support for the project, in part because the company made changes based on feedback from various parties.
“The Kivalliq Inuit Association worked with Agnico Mines and other intervenors to find resolutions to its concerns in advance of and during this hearing. We are satisfied that our technical concerns have been addressed through the new information provided, commitments made by Agnico Eagle and the proposed terms and conditions we have filed with the Nunavut Impact Review Board,” KIA president Kono Tattuinee said in his closing remarks on June 17.
Pipes will now be covered
Among other updates to the project, the company now plans to cover close to 90 per cent of the pipes, in order to address fears that if left exposed they might affect caribou migrations. The company also modified its original design from a single 50 cm pipe to two the currently proposed 41 cm lines.
The two pipes are expected to run parallel to the existing all-weather access road to the mine.
“The waterline will be covered with esker material … to allow caribou and ATVs to easily cross the road and the waterline,” Michel Groleau, Agnico Eagle’s Nunavut permitting and regulatory affairs general supervisor told the hearing on June 14.
As it stands, the company is currently depending on 20 to 40 truckloads per day to transport groundwater to the ocean. Based on its predictions, Agnico Eagle would need 150 to 300 trucks per day to deal with the growing amount of saline water underground at the mine.
In its submission, the territorial government noted that the waterlines would actually lead to less of a disturbance to caribou than the increased truck traffic.
“Less trucking will have less impact on wildlife, less disturbance. And, again, with fewer traffic on the road, it means less effects on caribou,” said Gabriel Karlik, assistant deputy minister of Economic Development.
During the meetings, Agnico Eagle also pointed out that the waterline would allow the company to reduce the amount of surface water that is dumped into Meliadine Lake – a concern raised by several groups and individuals.
Currently, surface water at the mine is stored in a containment pond before being treated and diffused into the lake. However, with the water line, the company would be able to transport the treated water to the ocean instead.
“This means that should the waterline be approved, there will be less discharges to Meliadine Lake than there are now,” said Jamie Quesnel, director of permitting and regulatory affairs for Agnico Eagle.
New advisory group to be created
One issue that was raised repeatedly throughout the meetings is the impact that the mine, and in particular the road to Meliadine, has already had on caribou migration.
“Communities have noticed changes since the all-weather access road was built. Hunters in Baker Lake rarely see the Qamanirjuaq caribou herd, and hunters in Chesterfield Inlet have noticed additional changes to the migration as it happens through their hunting grounds,” Clayton Tartak, of the Kivalliq Wildlife Board (KWB), said on June 16.
Given those concerns, Agnico Eagle has committed to improve its monitoring of caribou migrations with the formation of a terrestrial advisory group that will include a variety of partners including the KWB.
NIRB has until July 30 to provide its final report and recommendations to the minister of Northern Affairs and other responsible government ministers for their consideration.