Terry Milewski, CBC News
June 16, 2008
Lakes are in B.C., Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories and Nunavut
CBC News has learned that 16 Canadian lakes are slated to be officially but quietly “reclassified” as toxic dump sites for mines. The lakes include prime wilderness fishing lakes from B.C. to Newfoundland.
Environmentalists say the process amounts to a “hidden subsidy” to mining companies, allowing them to get around laws against the destruction of fish habitat.
Under the Fisheries Act, it’s illegal to put harmful substances into fish-bearing waters. But, under a little-known subsection known as Schedule Two of the mining effluent regulations, federal bureaucrats can redefine lakes as “tailings impoundment areas.”
That means mining companies don’t need to build containment ponds for toxic mine tailings.
CBC News visited two examples of Schedule Two lakes. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Vale Inco company wants to use a prime destination for fishermen known as Sandy Pond to hold tailings from a nickel processing plant.
In northern B.C., Imperial Metals plans to enclose a remote watershed valley to hold tailings from a gold and copper mine. The valley lies in what the native Tahltan people call the “Sacred Headwaters” of three major salmon rivers. It also serves as spawning grounds for the rainbow trout of Kluela Lake, which is downstream from the dump site.
Lakes ‘safest option’: mining association
Vale Inco’s proposal was the subject of a public meeting on June 10 in Long Harbour, N.L. Billed as a “public consultation” on the proposal, the meeting was attended by government officials, mining executives, environmentalists and fishermen.
Lakes are often the best way for mine tailings to be contained, said Elizabeth Gardiner, vice-president for technical affairs for the Mining Association of Canada.
“In some cases, particularly in Canada, with this kind of topography and this number of natural lakes and depressions and ponds … in the end it’s really the safest option for human health and for the environment,” she said.
But Catherine Coumans, spokeswoman for the environmental group Mining Watch, said the federal government is making it too easy. She said federal officials are increasingly using the obscure Schedule Two regulations to quietly reclassify lakes and other waters as tailings dumps.
“Something that used to be a lake – or a river, in fact, they can use rivers – by being put on this section two of this regulation is no longer a river or a lake,” she said. “It’s a tailings impoundment area. It’s a waste disposal site. It’s an industrial waste dump.”
Coumans said the procedure amounts to a subsidy to the industry and enables mines to get around the Fisheries Act.…
Jim Bourquin of the Cassiar Watch Society, a conservation group, said Kluela Lake, immediately downstream from the site, is “one of the best trout fishing lakes in northern B.C.”
“This is a precedent-setting decision by the federal government to start using fish-bearing habitat as a waste management area,” Bourquin said. “It’s totally bizarre for the federal government to come here and say that this Y-shaped valley up here is no longer a fish habitat, it’s no longer sacred headwaters, it’s just a waste dump site.”
But Steve Robertson, exploration manager for Imperial Metals, told CBC News the dump site will be sealed and that the economic benefits of the planned Red Chris mine will be enormous.