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Oversight body to monitor environmental cleanup of N.W.T. mine

Giant Mine shut down since 2004 due to arsenic trioxide


The federal government, the government of the Northwest Territories and four other parties have recently signed an Environmental Agreement to establish an independent, six-member oversight body to provide guidance on the ongoing cleanup of toxic material in a former gold mine in Yellowknife.

According to a June 17 announcement by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), this oversight body is one of the primary requirements of the 2014 Giant Mine Remediation Project Environmental Assessment. The group will be in charge of a research program to deal with the arsenic-trioxide waste in Giant Mine, AANDC stated in a press release.

Located close to the Yellowknife community of N’dilo, Giant Mine operated as a gold mine from 1948 to 1999. It has been shut down since 2004, with about 237,000 metric tonnes of arsenic trioxide contained underground at the site.

Bernard Valcourt, federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, signed the agreement on June 3, with N.W.T. Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Michael Miltenberger following him on June 9. Other signers included Yellowknife mayor Mark Heyck, Yellowknives Dene First Nation chief Ernest Betsina, Alternatives North representative Kevin O’Reilly and North Slave Métis Alliance president William Enge.

The oversight body’s members will be drawn from each of the six signing organizations, the release noted.

Among the agreement’s objectives is to remediate Giant Mine in a way that protects both the local environment – including “the land, air, water, aquatic life and other wildlife in the area,” the agreement read – and residents of the area, including all First Nations people. The restoration project must also follow “a manner that eliminates or substantially mitigates the environmental risks posed by the site.”

“Our government remains committed to the health and safety of all Canadians and Northerners,” Valcourt said in a press statement on June 17. “That’s why we are proud to sign the Environmental Agreement and take an important step forward towards the creation of an independent oversight body for the Giant Mine remediation project.”

Miltenberger noted in his own statement that the agreement would “ensure residents have an active voice on the ongoing remediation of the Giant Mine Site, including research into to a permanent solution for dealing with the arsenic trioxide underground.” Heyck, meanwhile, called the signing “a milestone in the history of our community’s work on the Giant Mine Remediation Project.”

The oversight body will be headquartered in Yellowknife and is anticipated to be in operation until the close of the 2015-16 fiscal year. The Environmental Agreement also requires semiannual meetings of the signed parties to evaluate the project’s progress.

The signed agreement can be viewed online at http://www.alternativesnorth.ca/Portals/0/Documents/Mining%20Oil%20and%20Gas/Giant%20Mine/Giant%20Mine%20Environmental%20Agreement%20%28Signed%29%20June%202015.pdf.