While the verdict might be in from the Cree of Mistissini to reject Strateco Resources’ bid to build a uranium exploration ramp deep down into the Otish Mountains, just a few kilometres down the road the town of Chibougamau is singing a different tune.
On November 23, the final in a series of hearings began in Mistissini over whether Strateco Resources should be granted a permit to create a 5-x-5-metre hole that would run 300 metres down into the Otish Mountains for uranium exploration based on the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the project.
Mistissini Chief Richard Shecapio made it clear in his presentation to a series of governmental and Cree panels that the EIS failed to provide adequate information on the project and therefore must be rejected.
“The EIS submitted by Strateco has raised many concerns. Specifically, that baseline data has not been collected thoroughly and does not fully reflect the abundance of wildlife in the area. There are several independent reports that substantiate this claim. The view is, if Strateco could not even take enough care in the preparation of this assessment, will they make the effort when it comes time to implement the measures needed to safeguard the water, plants and animals in and around the Matoush site,” said Shecapio.
His concerns were further backed up by almost all of those presenting at the Mistissini hearing, including environmental group MiningWatch Canada, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society as well as many Mistissini residents and others concerned from the south of Quebec.
Shecapio’s rejection of the proposed project was later backed by Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come on behalf of the Grand Council of the Crees in a press release dated November 25.
“Being from Mistissini myself, I know the community’s decision was not taken lightly. It took several years of fact-finding and soul-searching. Decisions of this nature are especially difficult for First Nations, particularly at a time when we are seeking out development proposals to address very real employment challenges. The Cree Nation as a whole remains open to mining development opportunities that are compatible with the Cree way of life. However, as Mistissini indicated, the community felt the potential impacts of this proposal far outweigh its benefits. With this in mind, the Grand Council of the Crees (of Eeyou Istchee) will respect and support Mistissini’s decision,” said Coon Come.
This reaction came swiftly after Strateco made statements via its own press release that stipulated it had received “strong support” for the project, particularly from the Crees though they did acknowledge Shecapio and the community’s rejection of it.
Shecapio was quick to response to Strateco’s statement. “Strong support is how it reads, and I can only say, it was in fact the total opposite. There were approximately 300 residents of this community present who overwhelmingly opposed this project, and Strateco’s press release completely misrepresents this message.”
While the Mistissini meetings may have shown disapproval for the project, according to MiningWatch Canada’s Ramsey Hart who presented in Mistissini and then attended the Chibougamau hearings, the climate at both meetings was dramatically different. Plus, the information presented by Strateco CEO and President Guy Hebert was not the same.
In his presentation, Hart pointed out that one of the major problems with the EIS was that it does not include information from an April 2010 document which states two million tonnes of tailings would be dumped into two nearby lakes.
Hart said he retrieved this information from a report done by a consultant for Strateco and though it is not set in stone, other alternatives to the nearby tailings ponds, such as burying them, could be possible but they were all significantly more expensive than creating a tailings impoundment in nearby water.
According to Hart, the other problem with the tailings impoundments in nearby lakes was that Hebert told the Chibougamau meeting Strateco wouldn’t create tailings ponds because of Quebec’s Mining Directive #19 and because the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission does not approve of them.
Hart said he would be submitting these discrepancies to the deciding panels to show that Strateco has been telling one story to the Cree and another to the people of Chibougamau.
“Whatever they are going to do, besides dumping it into a lake, there are significant cost implications and those aren’t reflected in this public filing. One of the main purposes of the public filing is for investors and to state the cost feasibility and economic feasibility of the project, however they are not accounting for potentially tens of millions of dollars of capital costs for constructing a tailings facility,” said Hart.
Hart said there were many in Mistissini who spoke out against the project, including Gordon Edwards from the Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility who highlighted the company’s failure to provide information on basic aspects of radiation and its hazards. Hart kept much of his arguments focused on water.
While he described the EIS has having a “lot of gaps,” Hart said the biggest had to be its failure to provide information on exactly how much water would be going into the exploration ramp. Without that basic data he said it would be almost impossible to predict the impact on the water being used for the project or the water within its vicinity.
Hart explained how the rock mentioned within the EIS is described as being on the high end of permeable for sandstone, which means that water is going to move through the rock. With the water table being high in that area and the fact that it is also surrounded by wetlands, this will cause a problem.
“You don’t have to be a genius to figure that you put a hole down into the rock there, that there is going to be some water coming in. But, the EIS says that they don’t expect any appreciable high water coming in,” said Hart.
Hart said the same public filing states that mine water is going to be a big issue and there is going to be significant volumes of water coming in. With that, two different stories are being told and once again, the environmental impact on that water cannot be determined.
According to Hart, from what he can extrapolate from the EIS, there will be significant impacts on local water and henceforth local wildlife, something the Crees were promised would never happen.
In Chibougamau, Hart said the climate at the hearing was dramatically different, with the majority of the attendees in favour of the project for its economic spinoffs.
Listening to Chibougamau Mayor Manon Cyr’s address at the hearing, Hart said she first described herself as opposed to the project because of her concerns for the environment but that over time the community had been satisfied with the information they obtained on the project. It was later pointed out that those in Chibougamau had never invited anyone to speak at their hearings who was critical of the uranium industry or had any different perspective.
“(Mayor Cyr) recognized the importance of a social license for a project like this amongst the Cree but she then followed up by saying that she thought it was a case of them just not understanding the project hinting that if the Cree were better informed they would reach the same conclusion as she did,” said Hart.
In response, Shecapio stated, “If we want to talk about what was understood, it is clear in my mind that Mistissini’s position shows concern for the environment, the land we live on, the land we depend on. These values have been maintained and handed down over many thousands of years. The mayor of Chibougamau needs to understand that it is an oversimplification to discount our fears as being simply borne out of a lack of understanding.”
While the communities of Chibougamau and Mistissini may not be on the same page with the project, it will be now left up to panels provided by groups such as the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and other government bodies to decide as to whether Strateco will be able to obtain licensing for their uranium exploration ramp project.
Hart, along with many of the others, will be presenting reports to the panels that will later on make a decision as to whether the license will happen. However there is nothing stopping Strateco from providing the information they were accused of not providing. With it they were surely attempt to sway Mistissini again as they have already declared in their press release.
Strateco’s release stated it “intends to develop and deepen relations with the Mistissini Cree in order to respond appropriately to their concerns and eventually secure their support.”
To that Shecappio replied, “It all comes down to trust, and reflecting on the clear and blatant misrepresentation of this community in Strateco’s press release I think it will be extremely difficult to bridge this gap. Strateco had every opportunity to engage this community and earn its trust, and just didn’t do it. Why did Strateco wait until now to realize that more effort was required in this area?”
While for now this portion of Cree land that has been slated for development is still hanging in the balance, only time will tell its fate.