Mackenzie Valley protection
plan has detractors

by Nancy Gardiner
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 03/97) - Ottawa is finding itself caught between its obligations to two Dene land claim groups and threats by business to take their investment dollars elsewhere.

"South America is a major competitor for mining dollars," said Mike Vaydik, executive director of the NWT Chamber of Mines. "It's not that it's less stringent with environmental regulations, it's just a one-window approach."

Vaydik is worried that a new act before Parliament could mean more and increasingly complex rules and regulations for businesses operating in the Western Arctic.

And he's not alone.

At a closed-door briefing for industry, the Department of Northern Development heard several complaints about the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.

"A couple of issues came to the floor," said Will Dunlop, director of resource policy and transfers with DIAND in Hull, Que. "One was grandfathering, for mines already open and operating."

And Industry was nervous with the notion that the bill doesn't give a ceiling for security deposits.

Even if Ottawa wants to accommodate business concerns, it has little room to manoeuvre. Both the Gwich'in and Sahtu land claims require the federal government set up a series of environmental review panels for the region -- by the end of 1994.

The Gwich'in have already taken the government to court over the delay.

BHP spokesman Graham Nicholls, who did not attend, said his company is concerned that there are too many changes and many elements still need to be worked out.

Even though BHP has its key permits and licences in place, the company is still worried "because there's ongoing applications, renewals and exploration work," says Nicholls.

DIAND Minister Jane Stewart introduced the bill in the House of Commons on Sept. 26. It creates two land use planning boards, one for each the Gwich'in and Sahtu settlement areas, the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, with permanent regional panels for the two settlement areas noted, and the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Assessment and Review Board. BHP wonders if there'll be sufficient resources for all the boards to handle the responsibility they'll be carrying, Nicholls said.

BHP's concerns were echoed by other industry members.

Vaydik said later in an interview that industry's main concerns are: "Clarity, soundness of the rules, and some assurance consistency will be applied across all these agencies, and some consideration be given to the transition period to get these boards up and running."

He suggests the legislation only be applied to land claim areas in the NWT that are settled.

Vaydik said he's writing to Stewart requesting that those hearings be held in the North -- probably Yellowknife.

"For BHP it took two years to get their environmental review done." Vaydik would like to see a one-window approach to the process, so that mining companies know where they stand.