Public hearings into the remediation of the Giant Mine site ended last week without addressing several concerns.
The remediation project went before the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board last week, requesting a 20-year water licence and a land use permit to clean the contaminated site.
While several participants hoped the project will now move forward, questions lingered over whether the final plan met its mandated requirements, and if the board should consider social responsibilities raised by Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) before issuing a license.
Acknowledging the concerns, Natalie Plato, deputy director of the Giant Mine Remediation Project, was still broadly confident of the plan’s prospects.
She said the overall themes of issues brought to the team centred around the finalization of design plans, the term of the licence and what exactly approval means moving forward.
“We 100 per cent know what we want to do. Our concepts are nailed down. We have really good plans. It’s just those details,” she said, describing incomplete parts as minor technical elements.
Plato further argued that design details could be reviewed widely before the project began.
The City of Yellowknife, however, said the plan wasn’t clear and complete enough.
“We want clear performance measures, clear indicators for that, not just ‘a process has been carried out,’” said SAO Sheila Bassi-Kellett.
She added the city believed in the project and the process, but the plan had to meet the mandated requirements “because that’s going to outweigh hope every time.”
The city wants remediation to residential standards. While that might not mean housing, it would be the best possible level. Remediating the site to an industrial standard would strongly limit the sites’ uses.
“We don’t want to screw around and have this be not done to the level that can provide future generations with options,” added Bassi-Kellett.
Outside of the hearing's scope, but still a key concern, were the socio-economic benefits of the plan, she said.
The project is in walking distance, noted Bassi-Kellett, arguing benefits through scholarships, training procurement, and employment can all be significant to local residents.
“I’m not confident,” she said. “I don’t see this.”
The YKDFN and Alternatives North, meanwhile, raised issue with plan’s proposal to freeze the arsenic underground.
From the project’s perspective, Plato said freezing was a temporary solution and that funding was dedicated to finding other solutions.
She also defended the proposed 20 years covered under the license, saying the project didn’t want to divert resources again to extend its license.
William Lines, presenting on behalf of YKDFN, called for the water license term to be limited to five to seven years, opposing the precedent set by the two decade proposal.
YKDFN further called for a benefit agreement to direct economic benefits of the project to flow back to the nation. Lines also urged apology and compensation for the losses incurred as a result of the mine.
Some concerns may be outside the board’s jurisdiction of licensing, said Lines, but not its influences.
In his closing remarks, he turned to history.
“The story of the Giant Mine is part of the story of treaty promises made to us and broken,” he said.
“Much of the sediment, the mud, four inches of it in Yellowknife Bay, it’s all arsenic.
“For us, this great beautiful bay, which used to support our lives, gave us all our resources and way of life, it’s all gone.”
This past had to be addressed, said Lines, or one couldn’t be confident it would ever be.
“Until this history and the mistakes made are clearly understood, we all suffer,” he said.