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Dehcho First Nations objects Prairie Creek Mine decision
Level of protection given to water quality questioned

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dehcho First Nations says it can't support the Mackenzie Environmental Impact Review Board's decision on Canadian Zinc Corporation's Prairie Creek Mine.

On Dec. 8, the board released its Report of Environmental Assessment and Reason for Decisions on the Prairie Creek Mine. The board found that, "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 of the lead, zinc, copper and silver mine isn't necessary and the project should proceed to the regulatory phase for approvals.

Economic development

"We are disappointed," said Grand Chief Samuel Gargan about the decision.

Although Dehcho First Nations supports the economic development potential of the mine and the impact benefits agreements that have been signed, the integrity of the land and water is the first concern, said Gargan. Since the expansion of the Nahanni National Park Reserve, which now encircles the mine site, it was Dehcho First Nations' understanding the mine would be held to a higher environmental-protection standard. The residents of Nahanni Butte situated 90 km southeast of the mine site also expected this, he said.

"The mine is in their backyard," he said. "They're the first ones that are going to feel the discharge of contaminants in their water."

Gargan said the board's decision doesn't uphold the necessary environmental standards and doesn't account for the concerns voiced by aboriginal governments.

In particular, Dehcho First Nations objects to the fact the board didn't adopt the approach for site-specific water quality objectives put forward by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) and supported by Parks Canada.

In its reasons for decisions, the board said the implementation of either AANDC's approach or Canadian Zinc's approach to water monitoring is not likely to significantly impact the water quality in Prairie Creek and the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board will decide the limits to protect water quality.

Gargan said AANDC's recommendation is more stringent and Dehcho First Nations will be writing a letter to Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan to ask he support that recommendation.

When asked about the Nahanni Butte Dene Band's response to the board's decision, Chief Fred Tesou said the band planned to hold a meeting on Dec. 14 to formalize its response.

The Mackenzie Environmental Impact Review Board's report has been submitted to 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 despite the board's determination.

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

Water quality concerns

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 say the report provides no mandatory framework to ensure that 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 of board decisions that are not unanimous.

Edjericon said the board values its member's opinions and that Bayha and Crapeau's dissenting reasons were included in the document to create transparency.

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