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Voices raised against Agnico Eagle’s Meliadine extension plans

Bevy of questions and concerns raised at Nunavut Impact Review Board meeting
Community members take turns stepping to the microphone to ask questions or make comments regarding Agnico Eagle’s Meliadine extension plans. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

Just about every relevant organization — from governments to hunters and trappers, plus dozens of community members — gave their input and asked questions regarding Agnico Eagle’s plans to extend the Meliadine mine during Nunavut Impact Review Board meetings in Rankin Inlet Nov. 23-26.

Speaking on his own behalf, Brian Zawadski was clear when he took the microphone during the community roundtable.

“I oppose the Agnico Eagle proposed mine extension,” he said.

The Meliadine extension proposes to mine more ore than the original project by developing a new depost, named the Tiriganiaq-Wolf underground, plus adding underground mining activities at the Pump, Fzone and Discovery sites, for which open-pit activities are already approved. The extension would increase the mine’s life by 11 years, pushing mine closure to 2043 instead of 2032. It would also increase camp capacity by 225 rooms, up to 905 employees. The company expects it to create 205 new jobs during the busiest year of operations.

The plans include three new components: a windfarm, airstrip and in-pit disposal.

The windfarm would comprise up to 11 wind turbines that would operate year-round for the duration of the Meliadine mine’s life and be dismantled and recovered upon closure.

Building an alternative airstrip close to the mine site so that the company doesn’t have to use the Rankin Inlet airport was one of the most controversial options at the public meeting, Agnico Eagle says it would provide flexibility during caribou migration, reduce dust emissions on the road and provide an alternative location for flights to land in the event of an emergency.

For the alternative in-pit disposal, another optional venture, that addition would evaluate locations for in-pit tailings and waste rock to optimize the site’s footprint and reduce the surface area impacted.

Zawadski told the company that individual additions to the mine site sometimes sound good on their own, but combined, they create a significant problem.

“When you add them all together, you come up with something that is going to be entirely detrimental to the environment and the animals that we rely on that are passing through here,” he said.

He didn’t believe the windfarm would create minimal noise, and he echoed earlier suggestions for the company to consider solar panels instead.

He also wondered how much the project would continue to expand.

“If they find gold 20 miles north, do they want to build another road?” asked Zawadski, adding that he would like to know the company’s long-term plans.

Pujjuut Kusugak, senior coordinator of community affairs with Agnico Eagle Mines, responded to the comment regarding the airstrip.

“We’re proposing it now so we don’t have to do it further down the line,” he said, explaining that the company wants to make sure it’s going through the proper processes ahead of time, even if some aspects of the plans like the airstrip never materialize.

Samuel Alagalak asked a direct question of the organization representatives around the table: do they support the Meliadine extension plan, yes or no?

“Direct answer is no,” said Andre Aokaut of the Kangiqliniq Hunters and Trappers Organization.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Kivalliq Inuit Association, the Government of Canada and Government of Nunavut all said that they are waiting for more answers and commitments during the review process.

Kusugak, responding to a comment about Inuit employment at the mine, indicated that it was a subject he was passionate about but larger than Agnico Eagle alone.

“When I was a child growing up, we didn’t have Inuit that were lawyers, we didn’t have Inuit that are doctors, not very many business owners,” he said.

But now at age 43, he sees that success around him, even if it can seem slow at times. He talked about the importance of creating a community that fosters growth.

“Our job is to create those foundations where students are going to be successful and be able to pursue whatever job they want,” said Kusugak. “It doesn’t have to be in the mining industry, but at the end, we have to create the foundation and encouragement and whatever else it takes to create children and youth that are going to succeed.”

Harry Towtongie, speaking on behalf of the Hamlet of Rankin Inlet, said the hamlet is against the airstrip.

“I want that to be heard,” he said. “We don’t want this… I want you to understand no is no. We don’t want that airstrip.”

As for the windfarm, the hamlet wants more studies done and more consideration for other locations for the turbines, he said.

Samuel Alagalak asks the organizations present at the Nunavut Impact Review Board meeting to state whether they support Agnico Eagle’s Meliadine extension plans or not. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo
Pujjuut Kusugak, senior coordinator of community affairs with Agnico Eagle Mines, speaks during the Nunavut Impact Review Board meeting. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo