As each side of the debate over whether the Cree should allow an uranium exploration project on Cree territory gears up to present its position at the November 23-25 consultations on the Matoush Project, concerned parties are lining up to have their say on the matter.

This will be the second round of a two-part hearing process that will involve various branches of government that include the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) among others, Strateco, the company pursuing the project, federal and provincial environment assessment departments COMEX and COFEX, the communities of Mistissini and Chibougamau, a series of environmental protection groups and a number of concerned citizens.

The first part of these hearings took place last May where Strateco had its chance to present the exploratory phase of the project in both Mistissini and Chibougamau. This because the project, located in the Otish Mountains, could have environmental repercussions for both communities. During the last hearing, anyone concerned was welcomed to pose questions to Strateco, which was legally required to provide answers. Now, groups, for and against the project, will have the chance to make their voices heard when it comes to the project. All the opinions, criticisms and objections will be taken into consideration when it comes to Strateco applying for its license for the exploration project.

Looking ahead to the meeting, Strateco CEO and President Guy Hebert said he is feeling very positive about the project as he and his colleagues have answered all 230 questions that were presented at the previous hearing. He said he has felt a great deal of support for the project. Though Hebert said Strateco will only have 15 minutes to present its position, the company will show the public all of the support it has received.

“We will be presenting all of the letters we have in support of the project and we have many of them from the Cree Nation and from different people living in Mistissini and other places. All of the mayors and the Cree Directors General will present their memorandums and we expect that they will support the project,” said Hebert.

Hebert explained that though this will be the final hearing of its type, it will not be the last one as there will most likely be another hearing to focus on the project’s technical aspects with the CNSC.

Hebert anticipates that the majority of the same individuals and groups will be present at this hearing, particularly those who have been vocal in their opposition to the project. He said if they held five hearings the same concerned citizens and environmental groups would be there.

“For sure, people are always going to be against everything, but that is their right. If they want to get up and talk again about a moose with three heads, they have a right to say that,” said Hebert.

Still, Hebert maintains that his company’s mining exploration project, which entails building an exploration ramp deep into the Otish Mountains, will have negligible, if any environmental impact.

While he understands Mistisini’s uranium committee has raised issues with the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the exploration project, particularly where it concerns water safety, the potential for selenium contamination and other environmental safety concerns, Hebert said his people have no problem about conducting more research.

Mistissini Chief Richard Shecapio has made a similar statement to this effect in regards to the consultants the community has hired to review Strateco’s EIS.

“The EEM (private firm) socio-economic review stated that there were some unanswered questions, and that they were looking for more detail in certain areas. Many of them are the same concerns the COMEX and COFEX review committees had during the summer.  There were several other independent reports that outlined gaps in the collection of baseline data, and the cumulative effects this project has on the local environment.

“It is crucial that this data is collected properly before any effluent is released into the environment. If this is not done, how will we know if the environment is being changed as a result of this project? If we cannot measure the changes, we will not be able to fix the problem,” said Shecapio.

According to Shecapio, the community is asking Strateco to provide more baseline data and to ensure that there is participation in the process by the Cree tallymen who have intimate knowledge of the area.

Though Shecapio reiterated that Mistissini has yet to take a stance whether it is for or against the project, the community’s review committee will be meeting with its members on November 22. Shecapio and his council are strongly recommending that those who stand in opposition to the project or have concerns about it voice them to the local committee so that the committee can present an opinion that is representative of the people. Everyone will be welcomed at the hearing.

Hebert is aware of the consultations that Mistissini has done with private firms as they are public knowledge, posted on the Grand Council of the Crees’ website.

As far as the concern about selenium contamination, which can be associated with uranium mining and has a very negative impact on fish reproduction, Hebert said there is no concern for the exploration project. In terms of an actual mine however, Hebert said he would only be able to speak about that after significant exploration is done and that’s why they would like to conduct an exploration project.

Hebert said he was very aware that there had been many questions when it came to the water filtration system proposed in the project.

When asked if the community had valid concerns about the water filtration system, Hebert responded, “It is really too technical for me to talk about it but it has been addressed. This is one of the 230 questions that we answered publicly. It was questioned by the uranium committee as well as COFEX and we answered it.”

According to Hebert, Strateco’s answers to the 230 questions are available on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s website.

On the other side of the argument as to whether the Matoush Project should happen, MiningWatch Canada, the mining ethics NGO which received a grant to perform its own independent review of the project’s EIS, has its own list of concerns.

According to MiningWatch’s Ramsey Hart, who will be presenting at the hearing, without a doubt, more baseline data is necessary than that which was provided in the EIS.

He stressed the importance of this because when it comes to impact benefit agreements, if they are negotiated based on insufficient data and the impacts are greater than anticipated, the deal then needs to be renegotiated.

In terms of the project in general, Hart said MiningWatch has a whole laundry list of reasons as to why this project shouldn’t happen at this point and the range from the environmental dangers of uranium mining to how the project simply isn’t economically viable at this point in time.

He explained that when the Matoush Project began in 2007, the price of uranium was about $100 per pound on the market, but it has since fallen to half that. While it’s hard to estimate what the price will be like in the future, Hart said that with the influx of uranium already coming from Saskatchewan and Kazakhstan, the market could easily stay at status quo.

In terms of the EIS, Hart said the emphasis of it is based on meeing the metal mining regulations which are the legal requirements that Strateco has to meet but there is no guarantee when it comes to certain issues like the possibility of selenium contamination. This is because the EIS doesn’t include selenium, which he said could be a major concern with a full-fledged mine.

“Selenium has been shown to have effects on fish and fish habitats and so the fact that you are within the regulations is no guarantee that you won’t have any effect on fish life. So to say that there will be no impact is problematic, to suggest what those impacts might be and then we make a choice about whether or not that will be acceptable, whether they are localized or small enough to be accepted given other circumstances, that is a decision one had to make. But, you can’t just say that there will be no impacts,” said Hart.

For the upcoming hearing, Hart is teaming up with other experts on issues such as radon, radiation and other major chemical and biological factors when it comes to uranium. The idea is to ensure that everyone understands the risks associated with every aspect of the project.

Hart wants to remind the public that this proposed project will be located next to the proposed Albanel-Témiscamie-Otish Park project and wonders whether the project could have a negative impact on the park and potential tourism.

Then there is the issue of where the uranium for this project will be sold as there isn’t a huge market for it in Quebec and Ontario’s energy demands are declining.

When it comes down to it, it is the Cree who will have to make their voices heard as to whether or not they want this project to happen on traditional lands.

Whether you are for or against it, it is time to learn more about this project and make your voices heard.

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