Agnico Eagle has halted plans to build a pipeline from its Meliadine mine to the ocean following the intervention of the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB).
The board’s decision, posted in a letter online July 17, states the company’s request to build two pipelines to discharge saline water from the underground mine lacked sufficient information.
“The NIRB has concluded that the scope and content of the information provided to date by Agnico Eagle as the (impact statement) addendum is not sufficient to allow for technical review by the parties and a complete and thorough assessment of the project proposal by the board,” reads the July 17 letter.
The decision comes just as a petition to stop the construction of the pipeline, launched by the local hunters and trappers organization, reached 600 signatories.
“There’s no way this should go ahead in any form without proper consultation and community involvement, and that includes having the Kangiqliniq HTO involved and not just the KIA and AEM,” said Rankin Inlet HTO spokesperson Andrew Akerolik.
According to the company, the proposed pipeline is required to meet the growing amount of salt water that is accumulating in the underground mine.
Frédéric Langevin, Agnico’s general manager at Meliadine, said the company underestimated the amount of water that would seep into the mine when work first started there.
With the permission of the NIRB, Agnico Eagle has been storing the water on site and relying on trucks to carry the water to the ocean to be disposed.
However, the volume of water has been increasing as the mine has expanded.
Earlier this year the NIRB approved an increase in how much water the company dumps in the ocean up to 1,600 cubic metres and 88 one-way trips from 800 cubic metres and 32 one-way trips. This permission is currently extended until the end of October.
Langevin said trucking the water will not provide a long-term solution to the problem.
“The trucking we have been granted can’t keep up to the level we have at the mine,” he said.
He added there were other considerations which are driving Agnico’s decision to propose a dual pipeline.
“Obviously trucking water to the sea in terms of greenhouse gases, traffic on the road and disturbing the caribou migration on the road is an issue,” he said.
Its current application requests permission to install two 16-inch, 34-kilometre-long pipes to Melvin Bay. It estimates the pipelines would discharge between 6,000 and 12,000 cubic metres – the equivalent of 150 to 300 trucks per day — between May and October.
Langevin said the company hasn’t done any work on the pipeline although materials have been purchased in advance. They are currently being stored at the company’s facility in Rankin.
“Our intention is to bring that to the site and store until we have approval.”
In order for Agnico’s application to move forward the company needs to address the four shortcomings listed by the NIRB, including improving its public consultation. One of the major criticisms from the community has been the lack of outreach that was possible in advance of the proposal due to constraints imposed by Covid-19.
The largest complaint has been the impact that pipelines will have on caribou. In a public submission to the NIRB, Brian Zawadski has uploaded videos of caribou refusing to cross over the hamlet’s existing 10-inch water pipeline near town.
“The company’s claim that the community was consulted is at best weak, to be polite,” wrote Zawadski.
As a result of the most recent consultation phase, Langevin said the company added the implementation of 70 crossing points for caribou and local vehicles.
“We’re doing our best right now to get as much feedback from the community,” said Langevin.
If the water board ends up rejecting the application, Langevin said the company would comply accordingly.
“NIRB is going to define the next steps as to how this will proceed, and we’ll abide by those.”