Colomac cleanup unresolved

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

RAE (Jan 31/97) - Though a restoration plan is in place, the question of who is responsible for cleaning up Royal Oak's Colomac mine appears to remain unresolved.

Dogrib Rae Band leaders were surprised Monday that Colomac representatives pleaded poverty when asked to help pay to fence the tailing ponds once the mine closes.

People of Rae and Edzo, the two communities nearest the mine, are worried caribou could eat toxic substances in tailings pond, bringing them into the food chain.

Those concerns have been heightened by rumors Colomac may close the mine within a year or two, caribou being more likely to dwell at the site once its deserted.

Colomac has two ponds, one for tailings and one for waste water.

"They dump the garbage on the ice (of the tailings pond), and eventually it settles on the bottom in one humongous, gooey garbage pile," said Rae band administrator John Ivey.

"If that ever got into the water system it would be a disaster."

The area lies on the migratory route of the Coppermine caribou. Ivey said that, during the tour of the mine the Rae Band members were given Monday, they noticed caribou tracks in the area of the ponds and he was told a moose had fallen into it in the autumn.

"I was firmly of the mindset that it was just a matter of going up there, firming up the proposal, costing it out properly and getting the project going," said Ivey of the Monday meeting. "When we got there we were told there was no money."

Royal Oak entered into an abandonment and restoration plan with the NWT Water Board during application for a water licence. The company acquired the mine from Neptune Resources in 1994.

The agreement sets out a number of reclamation measures, but fencing off the tailings pond is not among them.

Ivey said about six miles of fence is required, but estimated the job might be completed with materials on site for approximately $50,000. He said it would take a crew of 12 men two or three weeks to do the job.

"They said go to the government," said Ivey of Colomac's response to their request. "Well, we've gone to government, Action on Waste and different programs, and they've all said go to industry."

North Slave MLA James Rabesca brought the concerns to the legislature on Tuesday.

"How can we assure my people that no harm will come from eating caribou that have travelled past this site and have eaten and watered in this area?" asked Rabesca in a member's statement.

Ivey said optimism that help was forthcoming emerged from earlier meetings with Colomac's senior environmentalist, Brian Penney.

"We had one conference call with him just before he left for holidays. And he agreed it was a serious concern that needed to be dealt with," said Ivey.

"It was really encouraging to hear a mine rep saying that. Unfortunately, we didn't get the same response from the people who sign the cheques."

Penney will be meeting with the Dogrib representatives when he returns from holidays next week.