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In May, after a two-week public hearing held in Baker Lake, the Nunavut Impact Review Board declined approval of Areva Canada's Kiggavik uranium mine, shown here, because the company failed to provide a start date. Areva is seeking to bypass that decision by appealing to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt. Opposition to that request is mounting. - photo courtesy of Areva Canada

Opposition grows to Areva appeal
Mining company's request for federal minister to overturn impact review board decision sparks flurry of letters

Michelle LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Monday, August 24, 2015

The letters opposing uranium mining company Areva Canada's request that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt send back the Nunavut Impact Review Board's no-go decision for the Kiggavik uranium project are piling up.

The latest letter, dated Aug. 19, hails from the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board, stating it supports the impact review board decision and "the positions presented to you in recent (letter) submissions by the Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization, the Kivalliq Wildlife Board and MiningWatch Canada."

Areva's proposed Kiggavik uranium mine would see one underground and four open-pit mines approximately 80 km west of Baker Lake in between two caribou calving grounds - Beverly and Qamanirjuaq - and near the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary, considered the largest and most remote wildlife refuge on the North American continent.

One week prior, on Aug. 11, the Kivalliq Wildlife Board, submitted its own letter. The board, which represent all hunters and trappers organizations in the Kivalliq region, formed under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, states granting Areva's request "would be political disaster for Nunavut, and for Canada."

The Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization expressed displeasure at Areva's attempt to circumvent the impact review board in a letter to Valcourt dated July 13.

MiningWatch Canada, a mining industry watchdog, sent its own letter dated July 28.

Each letter demands Valcourt uphold the impact review board decision.

That decision came in May, after a two-week public hearing held in Baker Lake. The board denied approval of the project because the "Kiggavik Project as presented has no definite start date or development schedule." Further, the board's chairperson, Elizabeth Copland, stated, "The board found that this adversely affected the weight and confidence which it could give to assessments of future ecosystemic and socio-economic effects."

The Kivalliq Wildlife Board, in its letter, emphasizes that it "does not agree with reviewing and permitting proposals for major development projects that do not have project start dates in the reasonable foreseeable future.

"To do so undermines the ability of Inuit hunters and elders to meaningfully participate in such processes. Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) - also known as Inuit Traditional Knowledge - is time-sensitive knowledge."

Even prior to the two-week hearing, the company admitted it could take up to 20 years until the site is developed. At the time of the impact review board decision, Areva Canada expressed disappointment in an e-mail to Nunavut News/North.

But in its July letter to Valcourt, Areva cited Nunavut's own need for economic stability as reasoning.

"To deny the project approval in the absence of significant, unresolvable issues is inconsistent with current economic strategies and development policies that speak to responsible resource development that can contribute to self-reliance and improved quality of life," stated the company's president and chief economic officer, Vince Martin, in the five-page communication.

Martin goes on to say that there are "available and existing remedies to address the concerns associated with lack of firm project start date."

However, as Baker Lake HTO chairperson Richard Aksawnee noted in his letter, "Areva was aware that the lack of a project start date was a major concern for our community. If Areva took our concerns seriously, it should have researched this concern and presented its information and arguments about it at the NIRB final hearings.

"Instead Areva simply dismissed our concerns and said that NIRB reconsider terms and conditions. This is not the behaviour we expect from a company that says it takes aboriginal people and community partnerships seriously."

Aksawnee concluded there is now no instrument to ensure his community can respond to this new information.

In the MiningWatch letter, program co-ordinator Ugo Lapointe stated, "It is entirely inappropriate for a proponent to propose a major mining project without any start date, let alone wait until after a review has concluded to bring forward vital arguments and information related to substantial community concerns."

Lapointe added that overturning the NIRB decision would damage the relationship between Inuit and the mining industry.

"To do such deep damage to this trustful relationship for the benefit of a project that is unlikely to get off the ground for decades - if ever - would be extremely unfortunate."

He also noted Areva is "technically bankrupt."

In response to an email sent to Valcourt in July asking when he would make his decision, Nunavut News/North was told "The minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development will respond, on behalf of all the responsible ministers (Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada, Transport Canada and Natural Resources Canada), to the Nunavut Impact Review Board and the proponent in due course."

However, in this long election period, with Valcourt and his fellow Conservatives on the campaign trail, it is yet to be seen if any decision will be reached before a new government is formed.

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