After permit applications, relationship building, environmental assessments and research dating back to 2009, Nemaska Lithium Inc. (NMX) is just about ready to break ground on its Whabouchi Mining Project, a planned open surface mine 30 kilometres outside Nemaska.
The mine will extract 3000 tonnes of the mineral spodumene per day. It will then be shipped to a future processing plant in southern Quebec, converted into lithium hydroxide and marketed to lithium battery producers to power things like smartphones, tablets and electric vehicles.
“We have our main permits now,” said the company’s Director of Environment and Social Responsibility, Simon Thibault. “We still need to secure the permits necessary to start the construction process, which we expect to begin in fall 2016.”
In July, Nemaska Lithium received a certificate of authorization from the Canadian government, meaning the government believes the proposed mine poses “no significant environmental threat.” In September, the Quebec government followed suit, marking two milestones towards the realization of the NMX project.
The mine still has to meet a number of conditions, including transparency and cooperation with Nemaska, Eeyou Istchee and the rest of the James Bay region, as well as a commitment to monitor, limit and mitigate the impact the project has on the surrounding environment.
Thibault told the Nation that NMX has been working closely with the community of Nemaska and members of its band council as well as the Cree Nation Government, Cree School Board and Cree Human Resource Department.
He noted that present and past Nemaska chiefs – Matthew Wapachee, Josie Jimiken and current Chief Thomas Jolly – have all been instrumental in getting the project moving.
Thibault said that the project’s proximity to the local community and the James Bay highway set it apart from other similar endeavours in northern Quebec.
“There’s the obvious economic advantages, offering employment opportunities and investing in the community, but there’s also the benefit of the site’s location,” he said. “The big advantage of our project is that it’s located relatively close to the communities. Most of the time people have to fly in and fly out to and from remote locations for this type of work. Here, our Cree employees will be able to go home to their families every night.”
All told, Nemaska Lithium estimates that the Whabouchi project will create 575 jobs over a projected mine life of 26 years; 375 employees will be required for the construction phase of 19 months, 185 will be involved in 26-year operational phase and 15 will be needed to help shut down the mine and mitigate its environmental impact.
Based on the Chinuchi agreement, a partnership between NMX, the Cree Nation of Nemaska, the Governing Council of the Cree of Eeyou Istchee and the Cree Nation Government, members of the Cree Nation, beginning with residents of Nemeska, will have priority when it comes time to train and hire mine employees. The James Bay Cree also have priority for investment opportunities as the project now enters a financing stage.
“We will be starting drilling and blasting training and environmental monitoring training next summer,” Thibault told the Nation. “We want the Cree of Nemaska to be involved every step of the way to increase transparency.”
While the construction phase offers the bulk of NMX’s employment opportunities, the operational stage will employ people for drilling and blasting, trucking, operating heavy machinery, processing materials, on-site maintenance, site security and transporting workers. Thibault stressed that Nemaska Lithium is committed to working with the Cree Nation to limit the mine’s impact on the environment.
“We will be training members of the band council to monitor things like water quality, sediment and impact on fisheries,” Thibault said. “Our monitoring program is really comprehensive and the residual impact [of the mine] will be as low as possible.”
The monitoring program consists of an ongoing assessment of four potential areas of impact as the mining project unfolds: the integrity and physical stability of structures, the physical environment (weather, climate, air quality and emissions, groundwater and noise level), the biological environment (impact on land, plants and animals) and the social environment, looking at the use of land and resources, economic impact, community well being and possible effects on regional transportation.
NMX plans to implement a water-management system and a water-treatment unit and will be developing plans for emergency responses as well as rehabilitation and restoration. Already, they’ve modified the project location to have the mine as far away as possible from the infrastructure and community resources of Nemaska.
Thibault and Human Resources Manager Bruno Ouellet recently presented the project to the community of Nemaska. As part of the conditions of the provincial certificate of authorization they will be available for public consultation on the mining project and its impact on the community through October. They are seeking someone within the community to take on the role of Community Liaison Officer.