Though the environmental impact assessment for Strateco’s latest uranium exploration project will only be released in late November, Strateco’s CEO and President Guy Hébert was only too eager to tell the Nation that the project will have “no environmental impact.”

The approximately 8000-page assessment was supposed to be released by Nov. 8, but will not likely be published online until Nov. 16.

The Nation spoke to Hébert just days before the original release date to get a preview of what the hefty report contained and according to him, this project is a win-win situation for the Crees and the company. The only problem is that not everyone agrees with Hébert and he might have taken liberties in saying that he has the support of individuals who have not actually said as much.

According to Hébert, the Matoush project is beneficial to the Crees for “many, many reasons.” Already the project has created 100 jobs and 10% of that work force is Cree. By 2010, Strateco will be creating another 15-20 jobs with the current phase of the project.

At the moment, Strateco is vying for licensing to build an exploration ramp deep into the Otish Mountains to see exactly how much uranium lies beneath the mountain crust.

Should a full-on uranium mine be approved for construction, something that will only be decided upon by 2012, Hébert said that the project would create over 300 well-paying jobs that would also give the employees a great deal of training.

Other benefits for the Crees that Hébert spoke of were the estimated $2-3 million that Strateco is spending annually through Cree businesses as well as their plan to build a forestry road to the project that would give Crees easier access to the traplines in the area. The project itself is located approximately 220 kms from Mistissini and about 275 kms from Chibougamau on Category III lands. The road would be made out of tailings from the mine that do not contain uranium.

Since Strateco acquired the holding in 2006 and performed 120,000 metres of drilling, they have found significant quantities of uranium within the area and have been following the legal procedures to explore for the purposes of one day opening up the mine.

By law Strateco has to consult the communities within the vicinity that could possibly be affected by the project and so they have held public meetings in both Mistissini and Chibougamau.

From the two meetings that Strateco has had with the Crees in Mistissini, Hébert is convinced that the Crees are already gung ho.

“They are honestly very supportive of this! We did a public consultation in December 2008 and we have all of the transcripts from it,” said Hébert.

Though the Nation could not obtain an advance copy of the environmental assessment, Hébert was able to provide much information about the project and some advanced information about the study.

“Honestly there will be no impact on the environment because the imprint of the project is so small,” said Hébert.

Since they began, Strateco was able to observe that the surfaces of the 6500-year-old boulders on top of the Otish Mountains plateau contained approximately 16% uranium. Trace amounts of uranium have been detected in the fish and wildlife and waterways surrounding the project due to natural erosion of those boulders.

Hébert is claiming that nothing in the ecosystem surrounding the project would be affected by Strateco’s activities because the water they will be using for the project will actually come out cleaner after being processed by the state-of-the-art water filtration system that they plan on installing at the camp.

According to Hébert, the lakes surrounding the Otish Mountains are very shallow and contain very few fish. From their testing prior to beginning operations, that water contained 0.004 milligrams of uranium per litre. The processed water that will be reentering the ecosystem from Strateco’s project will contain 0.000003 % milligrams of uranium per litre.

Hébert said that because of the distance between the water in the area around the project, which connects 40 kms downstream to the Temiskamie River which flows about 130 kms to the Albanel Lake, those waterways would not become contaminated.

“It is impossible that the uranium would go to Lake Albanal or the Temiskamie River,” Hébert stated.

Hébert was also adamant that the surrounding area would not be contaminated by uranium because all of the blasting and processing of the uranium ore would happen underground. Strateco’s plan is to create an entry into the earth is 5 metres by 5 metres where the mined materials would be brought for processing on a truck.

When asked if this project would pose any risk of contamination from uranium, radiation or radon in food sources, because of the design of the project, Hébert said, “It is really impossible. I can confirm all of this and you will see it in the environmental impact study.”

Another selling point that Hébert discussed with the Nation was how on board the Mistissini locals were about the project. He described a trip that the families who owned the traplines that the project is on and around as well as a trip several Mistissini trappers took to Saskatchewan to visit a Cree community whose traditional lands had been used to build the Macarthur mine. The trip happened independently from Strateco and was arranged by the Cree Mineral Exploration Board in conjunction with Jack Blacksmith.

“When they returned, we had the product consultation in Mistissini. The Elders and the tallymen said that they had met their brothers in Saskatoon, and that the uranium mine has been very good to that community. The people do not have any more cancers, and the mines are clean and well protected. The trappers who own the traplines are very supportive of it,” said Hébert.

He went on to say that these families were so supportive of the project because of the “good information on uranium mining” they were able to obtain.

Hébert acknowledges that there will be some opposition to the mine and that this is the prerogative of the people, but with the precautions the project is taking, it is Strateco’s opinion that this project could be “justified.”

“I understand people being against uranium mining if it was here in Laval or in Boucherville. You don’t want to have uranium mines near the place where you are living. But we are talking about a remote area where there is very few fish,” said Hébert.

Furthermore, with the kind of local support he believes he has, Hébert believes that the project should go forward.

“I think that we have very strong support from the Chief (John Longchap), we have the Grand Chief, and we have the tallymen and the Elders,” said Hébert.

The only problem is that Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come never said that he supported the project by any means.

“As Grand Chief I have not taken any position and the Grand Council of the Crees has not taken any position on Strateco’s uranium project,” said Coon Come.

As for the trip to Saskatchewan that the families whose traplines fall in and around the Matoush project, Coon Come said that he did make arrangements for the families and trappers to go on the trip, but it did not exactly go as Hébert stated.

“The trappers, one was Norman Matoush, representing the Matoush family, another was from the Coonishish family and another from the Coon family attended, but they only ever made it out to Prince Albert. They never saw the uranium mine,” said Coon Come.

“From what I understand, they met with some trappers who were for the project in Prince Albert and needless to say, our Cree trappers were very disappointed,” Coon Come went on to say.

According to Coon Come, another trip is being organized so that the families and trappers may have another visit to interact with the Crees in Saskatchewan and actually see the mine this time.

Coon Come also said he had spoken to Mistissini Chief John Longchap and that as of the moment, Longchap has not taken a position on the proposed mine.

To date, Coon Come said that he had met with Strateco in Montreal to learn more about the project and that he had also arranged for a meeting for the families at the base camp of the Matoush project, but that this all happened prior to his becoming Grand Chief.

He did at one point drop by their offices but it was simply to obtain maps and other information for the families about the project.

According to Christopher Covel, a U.S. geologist and investigative scientist with a Master of Science in Environmental Studies: Resource Management and Administration, who has worked extensively with the Crees when there has been environmental fallout from mining activities, some of Hébert’s claims sound shaky.

“There is no way in hell that you can say that there is a 100% chance that there will be no negative environmental impact, it just doesn’t happen,” said Covel.

Though Covel admitted that it was difficult to decipher exactly what the environmental impact of the project would be without seeing the environmental impact assessment, his comments were made based on exerts from Hébert’s transcription. He also had reviewed the plans Strateco had posted on their website about building the exploration ramp.

Whereas Hébert said that there would be no environmental impact from the project, particularly because it is an underground mine, Covel found this questionable.

“Anything is feasible with money, but it is very unlikely that even this underground concept would not have an impact. A lot of it can be done under the ground but what happens to all of the other material? What happens to the materials from building the mineshaft and building access to the mineshaft? If you are going to set up all of your production facilities underground, what happens to all of that material while you are building the production facility? It has to go somewhere – where are they going to put it? They can’t put it underground and they can’t work where they are going to be blasting,” said Covel.

According to Covel, the mere act of blasting to create the access ramp could expose the environment to other metals and the other undesirable products.

He also felt that it was irresponsible of Strateco to put the idea forward that a negative environmental impact would be “impossible,” as there is no accounting for human error on the site and in that respect it is impossible to predict the future.

“You could be the greatest mining engineer in the world but you have no control over your employees who may come in and make a mistake. Human error is usually the cause of these things and you don’t have control over them. Nobody here is God,” Covel declared.

Covel said he was quite perturbed by the idea of building a road out of mine tailings as it was something that had been done in Oujé-Bougomou with tailings from a Chibougamau mine. Unfortunately, Covel found some of the highest levels of arsenic and other contaminants within that road that was built by the company operating that Chibougamau mine. In his opinion, if Strateco want to build a road, why not use the standard materials that are used everywhere else in the province.

Once Strateco releases their report, there will be a period of over 45 days before they hold another public meeting in Mistissini. The Matoush project is not yet set in stone and it is up to the people of Mistissini to decide whether they want this in their backyard or not.