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Prairie Creek Mine gets the nod

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 12, 2011

Officials with the Canadian Zinc Corporation are celebrating a decision made by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board.

On Dec. 8 the board released its Report of Environmental Assessment and Reason for Decisions on the Prairie Creek Mine, located 90 km northwest of Nahanni Butte.

The board found, "Prairie Creek Mine is not likely to have significant adverse impacts on the environment or be a cause of significant public concern."

The board concluded an environmental impact review isn't necessary and the project should proceed to the regulatory phase for approvals.

"We're very satisfied, very pleased with the report. We think it has endorsed the major effort that we made to design this project, plan it in such a way it would have the minimal impact on the environment," said John Kearney, the chairman of Canadian Zinc."

The report has been submitted to Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan as well as the responsible ministers including those of Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Transport Canada and the territorial government. Any of those ministers could order an environmental impact review.

Kearney said he hopes that the ministers will respect the board's recommendation so the project application can proceed to the regulatory phase that is administered by the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board. The regulatory process can't proceed until 10 days following the release of the report.

Throughout the environmental assessment process government organizations, community members and First Nations raised a number of concerns about the mine. The primary concern was on impacts to water quality and aquatic life in Prairie Creek and the ecological integrity of the Nahanni National Park Reserve.

The board writes about water extensively in its report. The report states the decision placed particular importance on design modifications suggested and committed to by Canadian Zinc to increase the water storage capacity and enhancements to the water treatment plant.

Kearney said the modifications were proposed to address the concerns raised by government departments and other parties.

"Our commitment to water quality is paramount and in planning and designing the project we took that into account," he said.

In the report, the board provided three suggestions it states will improve the monitoring and management of potential impacts from the development. In its first suggestion, the board states that either of two options proposed by Canadian Zinc to increase water storage on site will improve water quality in Prairie Creek. The board also suggested Canadian Zinc prepare a tailings management plan for both the permanent storage of tailings underground and the temporary storage of tailings on the surface at the mine site, and that Canadian Zinc use a secondary method to contain the lead-zinc concentrate as it is being transported over the winter road to reduce the risk of contamination.

While the majority of the board members supported the board's decisions in the report, it was not unanimous.

Board members Danny Bayha and Rachel Crapeau wrote that the evidence produced by Canadian Zinc, "was inadequate from a legal perspective to provide a sound basis for a conclusion that there will be no significant water quality impacts resulting from this development."

Bayha and Crapeau go on to state the report provides no mandatory framework to ensure commitments from Canadian Zinc, including those to mitigate water quality concerns, will be undertaken.

Bayha and Crapeau were among the eight members of the board, including Richard Edjericon, the board's chairman, who reviewed Canadian Zinc's file.

"It very rarely happens," said Edjericon on the frequency of the board's decisions not being unanimous.

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