Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut January 23, 2017 - 7:00 am

Nunavut review board looks at revisiting mine proposal—a first for the agency

“We’ve never had any report at the review level sent back"

SARAH ROGERS
Ryan Barry, executive director of the Nunavut Impact Review Board, chairs technical meetings on Sabina Gold and Silver Corp's Back River gold project in Cambridge Bay in 2014. (FILE PHOTO)
Ryan Barry, executive director of the Nunavut Impact Review Board, chairs technical meetings on Sabina Gold and Silver Corp's Back River gold project in Cambridge Bay in 2014. (FILE PHOTO)

The Nunavut Impact Review Board’s second review of Sabina Gold and Silver Corp’s Back River gold project will be a scaled-down version of its previous assessment, targeting key areas, says the NIRB’s executive director, Ryan Barry.

But the review will still represent a major investment for the board and the federal government, which funds the organization, Barry said.

Board members met this week for the first time since Ottawa responded to the NIRB’s final public hearing report on Sabina’s Back River gold mine, a proposal to operate a chain of open pit and underground mines on a property 400 kilometres south of Cambridge Bay.

Following a four-and-half-year long environmental assessment, the NIRB recommended last year that the federal government reject the proposal, due to significant environmental and social impacts.

But on Jan. 12, Indigenous and Northern Affairs minister Carolyn Bennett sent the project’s final hearing report back to the NIRB, saying its findings were “premature” and the project needed further review.

The response marks the first time in the NIRB’s 20-year history that it’s seen a public hearing report sent back, Barry said.

“We’ve never had any report at the review level sent back due to identified deficiencies,” he said.

Ottawa did not provide explicit direction on how to model this review, Barry noted, so the NIRB’s job now is to determine how it should consult the project’s stakeholders a second time around.

“We just focused on what the decision means… in terms of what the board’s task now is and the next steps we need to go through,” Barry said of a board meeting held earlier this week.

“It’s not about starting the process from day one. It’s really about looking at a latter phase of the previous process and conducting an expeditious assessment—a public review or hearing—where parties have the opportunity to speak to the board again.”

Bennett’s letter noted areas of the NIRB’s final report that indicated certain measures related to the project could not be mitigated.

But Bennett said the report did not fully explain proposed mitigation measures, suggesting there is room for more discussion on the subject.

A new review process will at the very least provide opportunity for the proponents and other parties to submit additional information, Barry said, which will be the focus of another public hearing.

But even scaled down and targeted to specific areas, the additional review will be a weighty process, he said.

“It’s a significant investment of staff time, or board time, of public time leading up to a public hearing and the logistics of running a hearing itself,” Barry said.

Although the NIRB’s costs for the current fiscal year have yet to be finalized, Barry estimates the cost of the six-day public hearing in Sabina’s Back River proposal, hosted in Cambridge Bay last April, ran at about $300,000.

The NIRB would have spent about $1.5 million overall on the assessment of the Back River proposal, he said, a process which spanned about four and half years, from December 2012 to June 2016.

As the NIRB is funded through the federal government, the review board will be submitting an updated budget request to Ottawa to cover the upcoming review.

The NIRB should release more details on that process soon, Barry said.

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