HTO tries to suspend Nunavut uranium mine hearing

“When companies don’t give us a start date… it’s just a waste of our resources”


Baker Lake HTO chair Richard Aksawnee at a NIRB hearing in Baker Lake in February 2011. (FILE PHOTO)

Baker Lake HTO chair Richard Aksawnee at a NIRB hearing in Baker Lake in February 2011. (FILE PHOTO)

Hunters and trappers from Baker Lake have submitted a formal request to suspend a final hearing into the Kiggavik uranium project near their community.

But the Nunavut Impact Review Board, which is conducting the hearing to assess Areva Canada’s Kiggavik final environmental impact assessment, did not pass the motion on day one of the hearings March 3 in Baker Lake.

The HTO’s motion had asked that the hearing be suspended because Areva has yet to provide a project start date.

The absence of a start date throws the whole proposal into question, Baker Lake HTO chair Richard Aksawnee said in a March 3 written statement, and puts an unnecessary strain on the HTO’s resources.

“It’s great that there’s a process that HTOs can take part in, no doubt about it. We’re really happy to have a say,” Aksawnee said in the statement.

“But we use a lot of our time and resources for these reviews… It’s a big burden for us. And when companies don’t give us a start date, might not even want to build the thing, it’s just a waste of our resources for no reason.”

The lack of a launch date — and concerns over how the project might impact nearby caribou calving and post-calving grounds — prompted the Kivalliq Wildlife Board to pass a resolution at the end of February opposing the uranium project.

The KWB is made up of the chairs of all Kivalliq HTOs.

Nunavut’s first uranium mine, according to Areva’s proposal, would span two properties about 80 kilometers west of Baker Lake. It would include five pits, a mill, a 20-km road and an airstrip to transport yellowcake by air to Saskatchewan for processing.

But holding final hearings into a project that has no start date — there was one in the original 2008 proposal but it has since been removed — sets a dangerous precedent for the NIRB, the Baker Lake HTO says.

“By reviewing projects that do not contain a start date, the board is imposing an unnecessary burden on land claim organizations, land claim beneficiaries, residents of Nunavut, as well as communities outside of Nunavut,” the HTO’s motion said.

Communities in the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan, some of which hunt the same caribou herds as Kivalliq hunters, have also voiced concerns about the Kiggavik proposal.

In denying the motion, the NIRB said a project start date is only one factor that will inform the board’s decision.

“The Nunavut Impact Review Board can consider the absence of a definite project start date as one of the contextual factors which will inform its decision and recommendations to the ministers,” the board’s chairperson, Elizabeth Copland, said in response to the motion on March 3.

(That response was forwarded to us, via email, by NIRB executive director Ryan Barry.)

“If the [NIRB] final hearing goes ahead,” Copland continued, “this does not mean that the project will necessarily go ahead.”

But Aksawnee said this review is about more than just placing terms and conditions on a proposed mine.

“The big picture question, whether or not Kiggavik is a good idea, will be answered with this review. And a lot could change if Areva doesn’t build it right away. Maybe the big picture will change in 10 years, maybe Kiggavik won’t be a good idea,” Aksawnee said in his statement.

“It’s not good for the HTO, not good for our members, and not good for Nunavut.”

The KWB, in its Feb. 26 resolution, said it is not necessarily opposed to the project, but remains firmly opposed until a project start date is set, and until grounds where caribou give birth to, and rear their young are protected.

The final hearing for the Kiggavik project got underway in Baker Lake on March 3, after being delayed for a day and a half due to a blizzard.

These are scheduled to run until March 14.

The first half of the hearing comprises technical sessions, including presentations by Areva. The second half consists of community roundtable sessions.

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