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Public feedback needed for territorial 2020 Environmental Audit

Meaghan Richens/NNSL photo One of the feedback cards during from the environmental audit public open house on Tuesday. "After you pollute the air, water, fish, you can't eat money." March 12, 2019.

Work is already underway for the Northwest Territories 2020 Environmental Audit.

Independent auditors and employees from the GNWT's Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) held a public open house at Northern United Place on Tuesday to collect feedback from Yellowknife residents about environmental management in the Northwest Territories.

Meaghan Richens/NNSL photo. One of the feedback cards from the environmental audit public open house on Tuesday. "After you pollute the air, water, fish, you can't eat money."

“It’s an audit that happens of the environmental management system every five years in the territory and it’s a part of the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act system,” said Julian Kanigan, manager of the Cumulative Impact Monitoring Program with ENR.

The GNWT facilitates an independent auditor to assess the system every five years, who then makes recommendations to the government in a report. Part of the 2020 audit will be checking in on the implementation of the recommendations from the last audit in 2015. The Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (MVRMA) came into force in 2000 and there have been three previous audits, with the first being in 2005.

The most recent audit in 2015 occurred after devolution, meaning it was the first one the GNWT was fully responsible for, rather than the federal government.

Auditors held an open house in Inuvik in February and will do the same in Deline, Fort Simpson, Behchoko, Hay River and Fort Smith in April and May.

“We’re hosting these public open houses to hear from community members about how they feel the environment’s being managed,” said Kanigan.

“In addition to that, there's interviews with folks that are actually involved in the regulatory system or in monitoring and those kinds of things.”

Over the years the audits have narrowed in their focus, said Kanigan.

“Some of the older audits looked at all of the different valued components we call them. Air, water, wildlife, all of those things, which is hard for one audit to do. The 2020 audit, with respect to environmental trends, is really focusing in on water.”

The focus on water quality and quantity was chosen by the Audit Steering Committee, “to allow a more in-depth and focused evaluation of the information available on water quality and quantity in the NWT, including both scientific and traditional knowledge,” stated Dorothy Westerman, a communications planning specialist at ENR in an email.

The steering committee - made up of Indigenous, territorial and federal government representatives - was also involved in selecting the auditor.

“The Audit Team will also report on potential contributing factors to any changes in water quality and quantity, the significance of those trends, and provide recommendations to address any gaps identified,” stated Westerman.

A clause in the MVRMA states that the responsible authority, in this case, the GNWT, needs to examine trends in the environment to see how cumulative changes to the environment are brought on by development and natural change like climate change, said Marc Lange of North by North Consulting, which forms a joint venture between a few consultants to work on this audit.

Meaghan Richens/NNSL photo. Marc Lange, of NorthByNorth Consulting, is one of the auditors responsible for the Northwest Territories 2020 Environmental Audit.

“My role will be to focus on mostly two areas,” said Lange. “The regulatory system and the cumulative impacts monitoring.”

The territorial government will provide information on watersheds in the Northwest Territories for the auditors to assess.

“Where there’s been multiple years of information collected they want us to look at it and say what are the trends?” Lange explained. “What’s happening with the water through time in these locations? Is it better, worse, the same?”

Residents at the open house on Tuesday voiced concerns over a number of environmental issues including arsenic from Giant Mine, best practices for individuals and industry using the land and future infrastructure projects like the Tlicho all-season road to Whati. But the 2020 audit can't make recommendations about future projects, said Lange.

“Any concern that we hear about over the next couple months is definitely something we’ll consider as part of the audit,” he said.

“But when it comes to a particular project that could be reviewed in the future, that’s not so much within the privy of our audit. We’re sort of looking in the rearview mirror a little bit, or a retrospective look at how things have performed over the last five years.”

The audit is costing the government $200,000 and the recommendations within it are not binding, rather, they are “take it or leave it recommendations" for the government to consider Lange explained.

“You paid someone to think very thoroughly about this and here’s what we’ve come up with," he said.

"And for the most part, what I’ve seen from previous audits, the governments and the parties make serious efforts to try and implement it. We’ll be checking that in particular, in this audit.”

As well as attending open houses in their communities, Lange encouraged people to give their feedback through the online survey which will eventually be available under the Have Your Say section of ENR's website.

"Because our recommendations to government will be based on what we hear,” he said.

The audit report will be released to the public sometime in early 2020.

Meaghan Richens/NNSL photo. This feedback wall is one of the ways the auditors are collecting feedback from territorial residents for the Northwest Territories 2020 Environmental Audit.
Meaghan Richens/NNSL photo Another piece of the feedback from the public open house on Tuesday. March 12, 2019.
Meaghan Richens/NNSL photo This feedback wall is one of the ways the auditors are collecting feedback from territorial residents for the Northwest Territories 2020 Environmental Audit. March 12, 2019.