Northern News Services
Snowdrift (Jan 22/07) - For 13-year-old Michael Vanleeuwen the prospect of uranium exploration in the Thelon watershed boils down to one simple fact.
"If the caribou die, then we die," he said.
Joe Michel, a Lutsel K'e elder, said people still hunt on land where Ur Energy wants to do uranium exploration. - David Ryan/NNSL photo
Vanleeuwen's opinion was just one of many in opposition to the project as residents of Lutsel K'e spoke out during the community hearing phase of the environmental assessment into Ur Energy's proposed uranium exploration program at Screech Lake.
The Jan. 16-17 hearings were hosted by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board (MVEIRB). The gathering gave Lutsel K'e residents - along with other South Slave residents, businesses and organizations - an opportunity to voice their concerns and learn more about Ur Energy's plan.
Ur Energy, based in Manotick, Ont., has applied for a land use permit and hoped to begin drilling at Screech Lake between now and April. It stated it would stop during May to make way for caribou migrations in the area.
The Thelon watershed is a unique area with important caribou migration routes, archaeological sites and a distinct cultural and spiritual value, said Monica Krieger, who spoke on behalf of the Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation. "That land is the heart and soul of Lutsel K'e residents," she said. "There has been a clear message sent."
A lot of people travel that area to hunt, said elder Joe Michel.
"The caribou is still our main food," he said.
Lutsel K'e Chief Adeline Jonasson said she hopes MVEIRB takes into consideration all those who spoke out against the potential exploration.
"We don't want exploration in the Thelon area," she said.
Tourists want to experience the great Northern wilderness and potential uranium exploration could have an affect on their unique experience, said Great Canadian Ecoventures president and chief executive officer Tom Faess.
"If their experience is compromised in any way, tourists aren't going to spend money to see the wilderness," he said.
Ur Energy recognizes there are concerns from the community and will address the issues raised during the hearings, said Rick Schryer, of Golder Associates, who was representing Ur Energy in Lutsel K'e.
"We feel the potential for impacts are at best, minor," he said.
"We are competent. This project will be carried out in a responsible manner."
During closing statements, Gabrielle Mackenzie-Scott, MVEIRB chairperson, said the board will make a final decision on the project by mid-March. Its recommendation would then be passed on to Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Jim Prentice for final approval.