RANKIN INLET, NU – April 15, 2020 - On March 24, 2020, Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. (Agnico Eagle) filed an emergency application with the Nunavut Water Board (NWB) requesting an amendment to the Meliadine Mine Water License 2AM-MEL1631. Agnico Eagle wants authorization to release saline water, with higher concentrations of dissolved substances than permitted in the current License, from a containment pond (CP1) into Meliadine Lake prior to the spring melt.
Agnico Eagle needs an amendment of the Water License to release this saline water because the total concentration of dissolved substances (total dissolved solids or TDS) in the water they want to release is higher than the License allows. Agnico Eagle’s current Water License allows it to release water with lower TDS into Meliadine Lake.
In its application, Agnico Eagle has asked the NWB to process its application on an emergency basis and approve the amendment by May 1, 2020. Emergency applications are decided without a public hearing, and the timeline requested does leave time for the general public to provide comments.
Agnico Eagle says that the large rainfall in 2019 have created these urgent circumstances. They state that they need to begin releasing water starting in May to prevent damage to the dike holding water in the containment pond to avoid uncontrolled water from reaching into Meliadine Lake. Agnico Eagle says that no emergency will occur if they are permitted to release the water starting in May 2020. They have also said that they do not think the saline water will damage the water or harm fish and other aquatic life.
KIA has reviewed the application and engaged expert technical and legal assistance. Through the NWB process, KIA asked Agnico Eagle to provide evidence that an emergency exists. So far, the information provided by Agnico Eagle has not convinced KIA that the discharge of saline water will not impact fish and other aquatic life, or that removing all of the water from the containment pond is necessary to avoid an emergency.
On April 2, 2020, KIA provided written submissions to the NWB explaining its procedural and technical concerns with Agnico Eagle’s application. KIA has a number of concerns with Agnico Eagle’s application and its request for an emergency procedure, including:
1. Agnico Eagle has not shown an environmental emergency to support its claim that the amendment must be processed on an emergency basis
KIA is concerned that the process is not in keeping with the NWB’s normal process and rules. Interveners and the public, including KIA, HTOs, CLARCs, and the Mayor and Hamlet Council of Rankin Inlet, have a right to notice and a transparent public hearing process under the Nunavut Act and the Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act.
It is KIA’s position that processing of applications on an emergency basis should be rare and reserved for serious environmental circumstances of urgent public concern that outweigh the public’s right to notice and a hearing. Proponents must plan properly and submit applications with sufficient time for the NWB process – late filing is not an emergency basis. Also, any emergency amendment must be limited only to those actions necessary to address the emergency.
KIA does not understand why Agnico Eagle did not submit its application earlier if it knew there was a problem with the saline water by late 2019. Agnico Eagle only submitted its application in late March 2020, asking for an approval by May 1, 2020, just over a month later. This does not give KIA and other interveners enough time to review the technical documents and consider both Agnico Eagle’s proposed emergency process, its proposal to release the saline water or consider alternatives. It also does not provide an opportunity for Rankinmiut to give input.
KIA and Kivalliq beneficiaries are currently facing the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19. This crisis has both limited and stretched KIA’s resources, and has made it particularly difficult to consider Agnico Eagle’s application on short notice.
2. KIA understands the importance of Meliadine Lake and its river system to Rankinmiut, and has communicated this to Agnico Eagle and the NWB
KIA knows that Rankinmiut are concerned about the state of Meliadine Lake. The lake and river system provide habitat for arctic charr and lake trout, key sources of country food for the community. KIA has advised the NWB that increasing permitted concentrations in the water released from the containment pond is likely to degrade the community’s perception of the water and fish in the lake.
Agnico Eagle’s technical documents do not explain if the different concentrations of total dissolved solids in the saline water will have an effect on the feel, color and taste of the water – we know that these things matter to Rankinmiut and may impact community members’ choices to fish in the lake and river system. This is significant with respect to food security particularly during these difficult times.
Meliadine Lake and the river system it feeds are also important sources of drinking water for many Rankinmiut.
3. The KIA Lands Department has technical concerns with the Agnico Eagle application
As an example, Agnico Eagle has not satisfied our technical consultants that it could not manage the saline water in other way, other than releasing it into Meliadine Lake. Agnico Eagle has also not explained why they need to remove all of the water from the containment pond to avoid the risk that the dike will fail.
KIA disagrees that Agnico Eagle’s requested amendment should be processed on an emergency basis without a public hearing. KIA will continue to strongly express support for Rankinmiut who oppose increasing the concentration of dissolved substances in the water allowed to be released directly into Meliadine Lake. KIA is participating in the NWB process and will keep the public updated.
The Kivalliq Inuit Association is a "Designated Inuit Organization" (DIO), which represents the interests of all Inuit living in the Kivalliq Region, acts as a lobbying group, administers and monitors certain provisions of the Nunavut Final Agreement in the Kivalliq Region. The KivIA mission is to represent, in a fair and democratic manner, Inuit of the Kivalliq Region in the development, protection, administration and advancement of their rights and benefits as an aboriginal people; as well as to promote their economic, social, political and cultural well-being through succeeding generations.