Plans to ensure Giant Mine cleanup work benefits locals economically and addresses the mine’s social impacts aren’t working as well as they should, the City of Yellowknife says.
Two groups created to monitor the socio-economic impact of the federally led remediation project have left the city “frustrated and disappointed,” Yellowknife’s mayor told federal ministers earlier this year.
Progress “has been slow and the work has not been transparent or measured against formally established goals,” states a briefing note prepared by city staff for a council committee meeting on Monday.
At that meeting, councillors will discuss whether to allocate more staff time and resources toward ensuring “that local benefits of the Giant Mine Remediation Project are maximized and social impacts are addressed.”
In August, the federal government said it had set aside up to $20 million over the next decade to help the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and its members benefit from Giant Mine’s cleanup. Full remediation work at Giant began earlier this summer.
The Yellowknives Dene have long demanded, alongside an apology and compensation, an agreement that enshrines a meaningful role for the First Nation in the mine’s cleanup and support to get its members some of the several hundred jobs expected to be created in the coming decade. The North Slave Métis Alliance says its members are similarly affected.
Ottawa said in August the $20 million would be used to support “an economic division, scholarships and training, community-based monitoring of the site, a community economic development officer role, a community liaison and technical officer role, and a Healing the Land ceremony.”
Organizations like the Giant Mine Oversight Board, which independently monitors the cleanup, have in the past criticized a perceived lack of opportunities for locals to benefit. The federal government insists that is changing.
In her July letter to federal ministers, Mayor Rebecca Alty wrote: “We particularly support the Yellowknives Dene First Nation as they advocate for economic reconciliation as a key part of the Giant Mine Remediation Project, because it is just and provides local benefits.
“The city also remains concerned that there has been little or no consideration for the ‘socio’ part of socio-economic: the social impacts as a result of the project.”
In particular, the city questions the role of Parsons, the private company hired by the federal government to manage most work at the mine. Parsons has a large hand in managing contracts and procurement, and must follow federal procurement policies in doing so.
“It is not apparent how Parsons is fulfilling its commitments to corporate social responsibility,” city staff tell councillors in Monday’s briefing note.
“For instance, the Parsons corporate social responsibility policy states that Parsons will ‘manage and reduce the effects of our operations, services, and solutions on the environment’ and ‘seek ways to give back to the communities in which we live and work.’
“However, administration is not aware of any action that Parsons has taken that would fulfill this commitment.
“In its corporate social responsibility policy, Parsons indicates that it ‘does the right thing every time it is faced with a tough decision.’ It is unclear how this is realized with the Giant Mine Remediation Project, given consistent actions to defer to Canada’s procurement policy when asked to quantify the benefits coming from their work for
Yellowknifers and northerners.”
Parsons did not respond to a Friday request for comment. Ordinarily, the company invites the federal government to speak on the project’s behalf.
Land and funding?
Meanwhile, the city argues the federal and territorial governments – each of which are heavily involved in the cleanup – could do more, as part of the project, to help secure Yellowknife’s economic future.
“When the Sullivan Mine closed in Kimberly, BC, the project proponent provided land at reduced prices and made financial contributions to Kimberly’s recreational capacity, including building the civic arena, as well as a curling rink, two outdoor pools, and the Cominco Gardens, a five‐hectare property of natural trails featuring over 45,000 flowers blooming annually,” the city’s briefing note states.
“The project proponent also facilitated a ‘land swap’ for the construction of residences as a way to increase Kimberly’s population.”
The city wonders whether the federal and territorial governments could provide a similar deal for Yellowknife, which might include transferring land to the municipality, providing money to develop that land, and paying for the development of trails.
In her July letter, Alty also asked the federal and territorial governments to shoulder more of the burden involved in monitoring and scrutinizing the environmental consequences of remediation work at Giant. She told ministers the city has too few resources to rigorously study everything happening and would be stepping back from some of that work.
“To be clear, we have skin in the game on this,” Alty wrote.
“The remediation of Giant is no theoretical exercise to the city. Giant Mine is within our boundaries and adjacent to the lands we live, work, plant food, and forage on; and the waters from which we drink, bathe our children, and swim in.
“We seek an enduring and productive collaboration to protect our residents, lands, and resources.”
New strategy expected
On Friday, a spokesperson said federal northern affairs minister Dan Vandal had responded to Alty but, following a delay related to the federal election, the response was so recent that they felt Alty may not have even had a chance to read it, so it could not be shared with Cabin Radio.
The federal department responsible for the cleanup said it would have a more detailed response to the city’s concerns next week. The territorial government said the same.
The Giant Mine Oversight Board – the independent agency that monitors cleanup work at the mine, including its socio-economic consequences – said on Friday it had “only seen these documents today,” in reference to the city’s briefing note and Alty’s letter, “and has had no opportunity to meet with either the city or the project team in their regard.”
Oversight board executive director Ben Nind said the board would be “interested in the response from the project team.”
In June, the board published its own study of how socio-economic data related to the Giant cleanup could be better reported and analyzed.
That report said many people asked to participate in the study felt the goals of the socio-economic strategy are unclear and there are gaps in the way the cleanup project’s impacts are being assessed.
“The Giant Mine Remediation Project is a significant project with the potential to provide lasting benefits for the local communities of Yellowknife, Dettah, and Ndilǫ,” the report states in part.
“Many felt that without understanding the full scope of the impacts, it is not possible to fully assess the project’s full impact, benefits, and lasting legacy.”
The project’s existing socio-economic strategy is due to expire this year, the oversight board noted, providing an ideal opportunity for a new strategy to address concerns being expressed.