The Kemess North Mine Joint Review Panel has asked the provincial and federal governments to extend their mandate by 90 days to allow for additional consultation with First Nations groups.
The request comes after a panel hearing in Victoria, Nov. 29, when the Gitxsan House of Nii Kyap and Tse Keh Nay Nation called for the suspension of the panel hearings until the aboriginal groups are given extra time and funding to provide input on the project. The Gitxsan and Tse Keh Nay called for the hearings to be postponed indefinitely until the conditions were met.
“Ninety days doesn’t do anything for us in terms of meaningful consultation,” Takla First Nation Chief John French said. “Their way of consultation is we’re told what they’re doing and that’s it. The whole process would have to start over.”
The Takla, Tsay Keh Dene and Kwadacha First Nations form the Tse Keh Nay.
French said there is major work to be done to examine the impact the mine project would have on wildlife, fisheries, water systems and traditional aboriginal culture.
The proposed Kemess North copper-gold mine would be built five km north of the existing Kemess South mine, a short distance from the lake. The new mine would use much of the existing infrastructure and generate 120,000 tonnes of ore per day until 2020.
Approximately 700-750 tonnes of acidic waste rock and tailings fine sand created when the ore is milled Â would be dumped in Duncan Lake, approximately 400 km northwest of Prince George. The tailings would increase the water level of the lake, which would be contained by artificial dams.
The operation would destroy the existing fish habitat in the lake. However Northgate Minerals, the company which owns the Kemess Mine, have plans to create new fish habitat elsewhere and reclaim the lake after the mine closes.
The Joint Review Panel is currently in the middle of a 45-day consultation period, before it will make recommendations on whether to approve the project.
French said using Duncan Lake as a tailings pond would permanently alter the landscape and affect moose and caribou habitat.
“When this lake gets used it’s gone forever. There is no bringing it back. It’s a huge aspect of the ecosystem,” French said. “They need to entertain other options. We heard there was 16 options [for storing the tailings] when this thing got started and pretty quick it was down to one option. We have never had any options presented to us.”
French said in the past the public have been left with messes to clean up when companies have left suddenly.
“We don’t know what is going to happen with gold prices, we just don’t know,” he said.
“I think we’re still in for a fight. But we’re not giving up. We’ll do whatever it takes. It’s just not an option to our people living there and who continue to live there.”
Northgate Minerals spokesman Perry Goldsmith said the company is focused on the hearings and is not making comments to the media.
During the hearings Northgate representatives opposed any delay in the hearing process.