The Arctic Canadian Diamond Company says it will ensure its proposed Point Lake project does not negatively impact caribou migration – a key concern for Tłı̨chǫ communities.
The company, which owns the NWT’s Ekati diamond mine, spent Tuesday’s first day of a public hearing detailing plans to mitigate impacts on caribou and the environment from Point Lake, an open pit it proposes to create.
Arctic’s plan includes caribou monitoring, ramps on an access road that will allow caribou to cross, investment of $500,000 over three years in research on the Bathurst caribou herd, and support for an on-the-land culture camp.
The company said several of those measures were part of plans for the Jay project, another proposed Ekati expansion involving an open pit, which has already been approved but the company says it no longer plans to pursue.
Arctic said the new Point Lake project will need minimal new infrastructure as an existing road and camp are nearby and can service the project. Point Lake will, however, require construction of a short access road – which has already been approved and is under way – alongside removal of fish and water from the lake, and creation of a waste rock storage area. Arctic said waste rock needs to be stored at the site in order for the project to be economically viable.
The company noted it has proposed changes to that storage area in response to concerns about environmental impacts. Those changes include minimizing the waste rock pile and freezing it in place, keeping a 200-metre buffer from an esker and another nearby lake, and allowing for seepage collection and road access to Lac du Sauvage.
Importance of traditional knowledge highlighted
At Tuesday’s hearing, Tłı̨chǫ Elders stressed the importance of protecting the esker, a prominent ridge of gravel and sediment that forms a migration route for caribou.
Speaking in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì, Joseph Judas – from Wekweètì – highlighted the need for the mining company to work with Indigenous people as Elders are knowledgeable about caribou. He said Indigenous communities have already been affected by climate change as the ice freezes later in the year and caribou migrate farther north in the winter.
Harry O’Keefe, environment superintendent for Arctic, said the company is looking to acquire more traditional knowledge about how to protect caribou.
“We’re trying to keep them safe and make areas so that they can move through,” O’Keefe said, detailing wildlife protection measures currently in place at Ekati. “We’re interested with Point Lake to continue talking about how we can do this better or if there’s something we should do different.”
Judas also raised questions about Arctic’s dewatering plan for Point Lake and how it could impact fish.
O’Keefe said as much water as possible will be pumped into Lac du Sauvage, while the remainder will be kept in a settling pond. He said a fish-out plan will have to be approved by Fisheries and Oceans Canada but Arctic plans to work with local fishers and all of the fish caught will be processed and distributed to communities.
A ‘new future’ at Ekati
The Point Lake project must go through this week’s public hearing, hosted by the Wek’èezhìı Land and Water Board, before it is approved. Both the Wek’èezhìı Land and Water Board and Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board have decided the project does not require an environmental assessment, a longer and more detailed regulatory process.
Intervening in the project are the Independent Environmental Monitoring Agency, North Slave Métis Alliance, Deninu Kųę́ First Nation, Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation, and the Tłı̨chǫ, federal, and territorial governments.
Rory Moore, Arctic’s chief executive, said the Point Lake project is “urgently needed” to help bridge the gap between current and future mining operations at Ekati. If it’s not approved, he said, the mine would cease all operations in 2024. He said that “would be tragic for the Northwest Territories” due to the loss of socio-economic benefits.
Beyond the Point Lake pit, Moore said Arctic is “committed to a new future” at Ekati, with long-term plans to move from traditional open-pit mining to underwater remote mining. He explained that would involve deploying a remote surface miner to the bottom of existing pits.
“You can envisage it as a zamboni on an ice rink,” Moore said.
Moore said that method is more efficient and has lower environmental impacts as it does not require new open pits or large waste rock storage facilities.