Will agreement be last hurdle?
Work might begin at Diavik once environmental agreement signed, says DIAND

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 02/00) - An environmental agreement may be the last obstacle between Diavik and the ice road.

A federal official said it is too early to say whether a water licence and other regulatory approvals, apart from the environmental agreement, will be required for Diavik to proceed with pre-construction plans.

"I don't think we're in a position to say at this point," said Jim Moore when asked if the federal government will insist Diavik has all approvals in place before Diavik gets a land use permit.

"It won't be until the (environmental agreement) is completed that we will have a clear indication on how we will proceed," said Moore, director general for the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.

A draft environmental agreement was completed Sunday night and presented to Diavik, Moore said. The company, which is hoping to proceed with construction of Canada's second diamond mine 280 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, is considering the agreement.

Diavik has said if it is not allowed to proceed soon it will have to call off plans for construction this year. The company has contracted for $90 million in work this year, most of it hinging on using the winter road.

Diavik hopes to transport 1,200-1,300 truckloads up the road, which opened to light loads last week. It is open an average of 65 days each year.

The environmental agreement could be completed any day now. The NWT water board said the earliest a water licence could be issued for the project is mid- to late February.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans area manager Ron Allen said fisheries authorization, which the project also requires, is closely tied to the water licence and, if Diavik meets all the requirements, will likely be issued within days of the water licence being granted.

In its report on the environmental assessment of the proposed mine, DIAND decreed, "the agreements and regulatory approvals must be in place before the project proceeds."

Moore said the work being contemplated by Diavik -- some quarrying and laying of gravel pads for foundations -- is very preliminary and DIAND does not see it as violating the recommendation of the report.

"I guess it's in the eye of the beholder," said Moore. "It's our view that the company isn't going to start detailed construction work per se."

Moore also said the environmental agreement requires agreement from the territorial government, federal government and the company. It does not require the consent of the five aboriginal groups affected by the project.

"We'd like to see that happen, but we don't know if it will," said Moore.