Mine Cannot Compensate for Harm to Fish Habitat


Mar. 16, 2018

Ian Peach                           

 Mine Cannot Compensate for Harm to Fish Habitat                                                                                                                                                              

Yesterday, Environment and Climate Change Canada held a public meeting in Stanley to get feedback on Sisson Mine Ltd.’s request to build its mine tailings pond for the Sisson Mine on top of fish-bearing brooks. The federal government, which has jurisdiction over fisheries, has indicated that Sis-son’s proposed mine waste management approach is under review, a review which will include consultations with Indigenous peoples and interested stakeholders; yesterday’s public meeting was part of this process.

Federal officials have noted, however, that the federal government has approved other projects in which mining companies were allowed to store mine waste in waterways.

If, ultimately, the federal government gives Sisson permission to build its tailings pond on top of those brooks, Sisson says it will “compensate” the province for the loss of fish habitat. Can anyone really compensate us, though, for the loss of clean water and the loss of animals, such as Atlantic salmon, brook trout, and the endangered American eel, that are part of our natural environment?

This is an especially important question to ask when there are alternatives to putting tailings into our waterways that will preserve the quality of New Brunswick’s lands and waters, and the animals we share the province with and that some of us depend on for our livelihoods, over the long term.

As Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick has pointed out, one alternative to open tailings ponds could be filtered dry stack storage of mine waste.

It was recommended that this be considered for mining operations in British Columbia after the tailings pond at the Mount Polley mine site burst in 2014 and sent contaminated mine waste into nearby lakes and rivers. The tailings pond proposed for the Sisson mine is the same waste disposal method as that which was used at the Mount Polley mine, so we need to take the risks associated with this method of contaminated waste storage seriously.

Another possible alternative to establishing a tailings pond of contaminated water on top of fish habitat would be to require Sisson Mine Ltd. to build a wastewater treatment plant on the mine site and to purify any mine tailings before they are released into the environment.

Both of these waste storage options use existing technology, so another important question for us to ask is why should Sisson Mine Ltd. not be required to use the best available technology to store its mine waste in an environmentally sound manner and have the technology in place before it is ever allowed to begin operations? It might cost them a bit more to use this technology than it would to build an old-fashioned tailings pond, but we, the citizens and taxpayers of New Brunswick, should not be saddled with either the cost of cleaning up an environmental disaster or the cost to our province’s environment and our quality of life that any permanent damage from such a disaster might create.

We also need to recognize that we, as citizens, and our governments have an obligation to make room for the voice of, and respect the opinions of, the real owners of the land that Sis-son Mine Ltd. proposes to mine, the Wulustukyik. In the Peace and Friendship treaties, the Wulustukyik never ceded their ownership of their lands in what is now New Brunswick. The federal government has indicated that it intends to consult with Indigenous groups about this issue.

Therefore, we need to ask the Wulustukyik, and not just the chiefs and councils of the bands that were created by the Indian Act but all of the leaders, elders, and knowledge-keepers of the Wulustukyik, the two questions I have posed above and we need to respect their answers. After all, if someone asked you if they could come on your property and dig a hole and you said “no”, should someone else have the right to tell them they can?

I cannot imagine that last night’s public meeting will be the end of the federal government’s consultation process. By building an alliance between concerned citizens of our province and the Wulustukyik and making sure that, when other opportunities to be heard arise, our governments pay attention to what that alliance tells them, we can ensure responsible resource development that protects our beautiful province for future generations.

IAN PEACH has worked in senior positions in federal, provincial, and territorial governments, at universities across Canada, and as a public policy consultant. He is a public law and public policy scholar with expertise is in constitutional law, federalism and intergovernmental relations, Aboriginal law and policy, and the policy-making process.

Another possible alternative to establishing a tailings pond of contaminated water on top of fish habitat would be to require Sisson Mine Ltd. to build a wastewater treatment plant on the mine site.