Point Lake, billed as Ekati saviour, prepares for public hearing
A project to create a new open pit at the NWT’s Ekati diamond mine, said by the operator to be key to extending the mine’s life, will head to a public hearing later this month.
The hearing, held by environmental regulator the Wek’èezhìı Land and Water Board, will scrutinize the likely impact of dewatering Point Lake to create another open pit at the site.
Already, both the Wek’èezhìı Land and Water Board and Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board have decided Point Lake does not require an environmental assessment, a longer and more detailed regulatory process.
Ekati’s owner, the Arctic Canadian Diamond Company, had lobbied for its project to avoid environmental assessment on the grounds that Point Lake must open soon to fill a gap in production that would otherwise see the mine shut down, costing hundreds of staff their jobs.
Nevertheless, Point Lake must still come through a public hearing in the week of November 22-26 at which a range of concerns will be examined.
“Underneath Point Lake, there are three kimberlite pipes. Arctic is looking to mine those pipes,” said Ryan Fequet, the Wek’èezhìı Land and Water Board’s executive director, explaining the focus of the public hearing.
“The public hearing is the parties’ opportunity to discuss the outstanding concerns they have. Concerns we’ve heard include caribou habitat – especially around that site, because it’s a really important corridor – the placement and design of the waste rock storage areas and overburden pile, and long-term water quality.”
The public hearing will be streamed live by Cabin Radio. Arctic Canadian will present its plans for the open pit, followed by questions and presentations from governments and agencies who hold some authority over the land and water in question.
There is also the opportunity for members of the public to ask questions – via comments beneath Cabin Radio’s live stream, among other methods – that can then be raised at the hearing.
In a presentation earlier this year, Arctic Canadian said Point Lake is a “short-term development of accessible resources to avoid operations interruption” between 2023 and 2028, keeping Ekati open. Without the new pit, Arctic Canadian claimed, the mine will shut down for good in 2024.
Arctic Canadian has spent months trying to secure the earliest possible green light for the Point Lake pit.
“The Point Lake project provides an essential bridge between the currently active mining operations at Ekati and the longer-term developments that require several years for design, permitting, and construction,” the company told Cabin Radio last month.
“Any delay to the Point Lake project would put the future of Ekati at risk.”
Fequet said public hearings are normally followed by the drafting of a water licence and land-use permit for a project, incorporating any conditions determined to be necessary.
Closing arguments regarding this project are set to be heard in February.
“Currently, the board is set to make a decision some time around March 2022,” Fequet said.
The NWT’s environment minister, Shane Thompson, must provide final approval for any licences or permits before they are issued.
Cabin Radio’s coverage of the Point Lake public hearing is funded through a paid partnership with the Wek’èezhìı Land and Water Board, which financially supports live coverage of the hearing but retains no editorial control over Cabin Radio’s reporting of the hearing and its outcome.