November 1, 2002

Arctic Bay impatient with slow Nanisivik transfer talks

Government waiting for environmental and human health studies


Houses at the Nanisivik town site. The people of Arctic Bay want numerous houses, buildings and vehicles moved to their community.

(FILE PHOTO)

JIM BELL

Though the people of Arctic Bay are growing impatient with slow progress in talks aimed at finding another use for the Nanisivik town site, GN officials say they can’t move forward until the mine owner submits required human health and environmental studies.

The Nansivik Mine, owned by CanZinco Ltd. of Toronto, ceased production of zinc and silver last month.

For the past year, the Hamlet of Arctic Bay has been pressing the government of Nunavut to find a new use for the site, preferably a trades training centre, and to move various buildings and pieces of equipment to their community.

So far, talks among various levels of government, CanZinco, and the hamlet have produced few clear answers.

"All the other levels of government have not yet indicated to us what the alternative use would be for the mine, and it’s quite frustrating for us in this community," Joanasie Akumalik, the mayor of Arctic Bay, said this week.

Akumalik said the community’s preferred choice would be a vocational training centre, similar to the one at Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories, where many Nunavummiut have received trades training over the years.

"All the infrastructure is there, but I think somebody is afraid to make a decision," Akumalik said. "I think they’re looking at the cost, and things like that. But this community has been indicating that it should become a trades training centre, not only for Arctic Bay but for the whole of Nunavut."

The lack of a proper trades training centre in Nunavut was an outstanding issue for many years prior to the division of the Northwest Territories in 1999. But no plans were ever developed to replace the territorial centre in Fort Smith that was lost when Nunavut was created.

Bernie MacIsaac of the Nunavut government’s department of sustainable development said, however, that the government will not make any final decisions about Nanisivik until CanZinco submits studies aimed at assessing any threats to the environment or human health that may be lurking there.

"From our point of view, we get a little bit of flak sometimes about dragging our feet in terms of alternative use," MacIsaac said. "But we just don’t want to make a decision that, down the road, we’ll regret, and find out that we can’t carry these things out because of the whole contamination issue."

Under its new water licence, issued Oct. 10, CanZinco must submit a second environmental site assessment, and a human health risk assessment.

MacIsaac said the GN must see those studies first before it endorses a new use for the site.

"We want to ensure that any users of that site are not subject to any health risk, or any contamination. That kind of plays into what the alternative uses are for the site," MacIsaac said.

He did say, however, that it’s likely that the accomodation complex at Nanisivik would play a central role in any new uses. He says it could be used for various things, including training, but that it’s unlikely to become a trades centre.

Instead, the government is looking at a variety of uses, MacIsaac said.

"There’s going to be no alternative use that basically replaces the mine. It’s not going to be a one-user situation. It will basically be a number of incremental uses. Hopefully, all together, these can justify keeping the site open," he said.

He did say though, that the airport and dock at Nanisivik will remain open.

"A lot of the potential for that site resides in that dock facility. We feel that it’s a strategic asset for the country. It’s the only dock and jet port in the Arctic, and with the closure of Polaris, it’s the only one we’ve got."

The Coast Guard now uses the dock facility for refueling, but they haven’t provided any final answers about what they plan to do with it, MacIsaac said.

As for the many houses, buildings and vehicles on the site, Akumalik says the community wants as many of them as possible moved to Arctic Bay.

"We have indicated to the mine that if they are disposing of any vehicles or other assets at the mine, that they should notify the hamlet," Akumalik said.

MacIsaac said the government has contracted Ferguson Simek Clark, an engineering firm, to study buildings at Nanisivik to see how many can be moved to Arctic Bay and at what cost.

"Not all of them, obviously, are moveable and part of this whole exercise is to identify the ones that are," MacIsaac said.

Akumalik says, however, that he thinks the government has already made up its mind about what buildings they will move to his community.

"It looks as if the government has already made up their mind about moving some units," Akumalik said. "Maybe they’ve already decided to bulldoze the mine. That’s what I think. They’ve already set their mind to bulldoze it and not turn it into something."

Another frustration, Akumalik said, is that the numerous government agencies involved in Arctic Bay don’t seem to be talking to each other.

"There’s no communication between the departments," Akumalik said.

MacIsaac says, however, that it’s a "complex file," involving many issues, such as who owns what asset, who’s responsible for providing water and sewage, and who owns the fuel at the site.

"There are literally thousands of pages of documents and e-mails and what-not just going back and forth in dealing with all this," he said.