As the controversy over the environmental study of a proposed Ring of Fire mine drags on, another proposed mine in the Ring of Fire has started a similar environmental assessment process.
The environmental assessment for Noront Resources’ proposed Eagles Nest mine kicked off Nov. 15 with the opening of a 30-day public comment period.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) decided to do a comprehensive study, the same process chosen for Cliffs Natural Resources’ proposed chromite mine.
CEAA spokesperson Celine Legault said the agency determined there was no need for the Noront project to be subjected to a more intensive Joint Review Panel (JRP) assessment.
“At any time during the study the (federal) minister of environment can refer the assessment to a Joint Review Panel,” Legault said.
Deciding to refer the project to a JRP would be based on the project having “likely, significant adverse effects” and “major public concerns.”
A JRP review would involve a panel of independent experts overseeing the review, and include community meetings where oral testimonies and concerns could be raised.
In contrast, a comprehensive study is done by the CEAA itself. In a comprehensive study only written submissions are accepted.
The Noront comprehensive study will involve three public comment periods where any member of the public can submit a written concern to the CEAA, Legault said. The first public comment period has a deadline of Dec. 16.
During the second public comment period meetings will be held in affected Aboriginal communities, Legault said.
She added that consultation with Aboriginal groups has been ongoing since Noront submitted its project description in the spring of 2011.
Noront’s assessment now falls in the middle of what has become a political battle over the Cliffs’ chromite mine environment assessment. During the past month the Cliffs project has come under attack from affected First Nations and environmental groups, who cite the potential for serious environmental effects. They are calling on the government to implement a full JRP assessment of the project.
In early November Matawa First Nations pledged to pull its support for the Ring of Fire development unless a JRP assessment of the Cliffs project was called.
Matawa also took its concerns over the Cliff’s assessment process to Ottawa, holding a press conference in the nation’s capital to announce it has filed a judicial review of the assessment process.
“For over five months our chiefs have been insisting that the CEAA move to a negotiated Joint Review Panel EA process, but they continue to ignore us,” said Aroland First Nation Chief Sonny Gagnon in a press release. “The government needs to listen to us.”
So far federal environment minister Peter Kent has not responded to Matawa’s request.
Matawa spokeswoman Anita Fraser said Matawa chiefs were discussing what to do about the Noront project, but no statement had been prepared as of press time.
Noront’s Eagles Nest project plans to mine one million tonnes of nickel, copper, platinum and palladium each year for 11 years at an underground mine near Webequie.
Concentrate from the mine would be pumped about 100 kilometres in a buried pipeline to Webequie Junction, 20 kilometres south of Webequie.
According to the company’s proposal, a filtering and drying plant to process the concentrate would be built at Webequie Junction, along with a diesel power generation station to supply the mine with electricity. A winter road would connect the mine site to Webequie Junction.
In order to bring its materials to southern markets, Noront has proposed to build an all-weather road from Webequie Junction to Pickle Lake. The all-weather road would follow the existing winter road route.
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