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Voisey's Bay Mine and Mill Environmental Assessment Panel Report

1 Introduction

1.1 Memorandum of Understanding

On January 31, 1997, the governments of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador, and the presidents of the Labrador Inuit Association (LIA) and the Innu Nation, announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU). Under this MOU, they agreed to establish a joint environmental assessment review of a proposal by the Voisey's Bay Nickel Company (VBNC) to develop a mine and mill near Voisey's Bay, Labrador.

The MOU was established to harmonize the environmental assessment processes of the federal and provincial governments and to recognize the interests of the two Aboriginal groups who have overlapping land claims in the area.

With a membership of about 5,200, the Labrador Inuit Association represents both Inuit and "Kablunangajuit" - an Inuktitut term for the people of northern Labrador who are also referred to as "Settlers." LIA members reside primarily in Nain, Hopedale, Makkovik, Postville, Rigolet, North West River and the Upper Lake Melville area. For the purposes of this report "Inuit" is used to describe LIA members. The Innu Nation represents approximately 1,500 Innu mainly living in the communities of Sheshatshiu and Utshimassits (Davis Inlet). A map of Labrador communities appears on the opposite page.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has federal responsibility for the review process because of its responsibility to issue an authorization for destruction of fish habitat under subsection 35(2) of the Fisheries Act and a permit under section 5 of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. In order to participate in the harmonized review process, the provincial government exempted the project from the Newfoundland Environmental Assessment Act.

A complete copy of the MOU can be found in Appendix C. It includes direction on administering the process and important definitions relating to the environmental assessment process. Schedule 1 to the MOU contains the terms of reference for the review, outlines the review's scope and timelines, and lists factors to be considered during the review. Figure 1 summarizes the review process.

Figure 1: Steps in the Panel Review Process

  1. Signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), appointment of the Panel, Terms of Reference released - January 31, 1997
  2. Operational Procedures issued by the Panel - March 12, 1997
  3. Draft Guidelines for the Preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) issued by the Panel - March 14, 1997
  4. Scoping meetings - April 16 - May 26, 1997
  5. Panel issued Final Guidelines for the Preparation of an EIS - June 20, 1997
  6. EIS submitted and 75-day review period commenced - December 17, 1997
  7. Announcement of a 30-day extension for the review period of the EIS - February 20, 1998
  8. End of the EIS review period - March 31, 1998
  9. Request for Additional Information released by the Panel - May 1, 1998
  10. Start of the 45-day review period of the Additional Information - June 1, 1998
  11. Panel determined that sufficient information was provided to proceed to public hearings - July 30, 1998
  12. Schedule for public hearings and Hearing Procedures issued - August 6, 1998
  13. Public hearings - September 9 - November 6, 1998
  14. Panel Report Sent to MOU Parties - March 1999

1.2 Panel History and Membership

The independent Joint Panel on the Voisey's Bay Mine and Mill Development Proposal was appointed on January 31, 1997 to conduct the public review of the undertaking. It includes Ms. Lesley Griffiths (Chair), Mr. Samuel Metcalfe, Ms. Lorraine Michael, Dr. Peter Usher and Dr. Charles Pelley, whose biographies appear in Appendix A.

1.3 Participant Funding

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) made funding available to help interested groups participate in the review process. A funding committee, independent of the Panel and administered by CEAA, assessed the applications and awarded a total of $150,000 to 12 groups for the first phase of the review process, which included scoping of the environmental assessment. For the second phase of the review process, which included public hearings, the committee awarded $259,000 to 13 groups. The public was encouraged to participate throughout the process, which included preparing the final guidelines for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and reviewing the adequacy of the EIS and Additional Information.

1.4 Review Process

Following the panel's appointment on January 31, 1997, draft EIS guidelines were issued on March 14, 1997 for public review and comment. The guidelines outlined the issues that VBNC was asked to respond to in its EIS. Public meetings were held in April and May 1997 to allow interested organizations, groups and individuals to inform the Panel of the range of issues they thought the Panel should address during the review. These "scoping sessions" were held in Nain, Rigolet, Hopedale, Postville, Makkovik, Sheshatshiu and Utshimassits, as required by the MOU. Given the interest shown by other communities, the Panel also held scoping sessions in Goose Bay, Cartwright and St. John's. After carefully considering the comments received, the Panel released the final EIS guidelines on June 20, 1997.

On December 17, 1997, VBNC's response to the guidelines, the EIS, was released for the 75-day public comment period required under the MOU. The Panel added 30 days to the review period after VBNC released some background documents to the EIS. The Panel reviewed the EIS, and considered comments on the document's adequacy submitted by members of the public, environmental groups, community organizations, Aboriginal groups, and federal and provincial government departments and agencies. On May 1, 1997, following this process, the Panel requested more details from VBNC in a number of areas where the EIS did not provide sufficient information to support meaningful discussion at public hearings. These details (known as Additional Information) were provided to the Panel on June 1, 1998 and then made available for a 45-day public review period, as required by the MOU.

On July 30, 1998, the Panel announced its determination that the EIS, background documents and the Additional Information contained sufficient detail to support meaningful discussion of the proposal at public hearings.

The public hearings allowed individuals, organizations and government representatives to provide their views on the implications of the proposed project. VBNC was also allowed to explain the project and respond to concerns and questions raised by other participants. Between September 9 and November 6, 1998, the Panel held 32 days of hearings in Nain, Utshimassits, Sheshatshiu, Hopedale, Rigolet, Postville and Makkovik. Hearings were also held in Goose Bay, Cartwright, Labrador City, and St. John's. The public hearings included community, general and technical sessions. A list of sessions can be found in Appendix D.

This report is the final stage of the process to be completed by the Panel. It summarizes the concerns the Panel heard, the Panel's findings, and the conclusions and recommendations the Panel is making to provincial ministers, federal ministers, and the presidents of LIA and the Innu Nation.

A public registry of all documents, including submissions made to the Panel during the scoping meetings and public hearings, was maintained at the Panel's office in Nain and at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency in Hull, Quebec.

1.5 Project Description

Over the course of the environmental assessment review process, elements of the proposal have evolved. While the Panel sees no significant change in the original project description in the MOU, it recognizes that the Project will continue to evolve. The Panel considered this fact when reaching its conclusions and determining its recommendations for this report. The description that follows is consistent with the Project description provided by VBNC in its EIS and the Project description that accompanied the MOU.

VBNC proposes to develop a nickel-copper-cobalt mine and mill near a place known to the Inuit of Labrador as Tasiujatsoak and to the Innu of Labrador as Kapukuanipant-kauashat, which is also known as Voisey's Bay. The proposed mine and mill would be located in northern Labrador, 35 km southwest of Nain and 79 km northwest of Utshimassits.

The indicated mineral resource is estimated to be 150 million tonnes and consists of three ore bodies, described by VBNC as the Ovoid, the Eastern Deeps and the Western Extension. VBNC proposes to mine 32 million tonnes of ore from the Ovoid using conventional open pit techniques, and to mine the anticipated 118 million tonnes of mineral resource from the Western Extension and Eastern Deeps using underground techniques. The Eastern Deeps and Western Extension zones will require further exploration before the details of a mine plan can be determined. At full capacity, the mill would process ore into nickel-cobalt and copper concentrates at a rate of 20,000 tonnes of ore per day. Concentrates would be trucked to storage facilities at the port site at Edward's Cove and shipped off site for further processing.

Site infrastructure would include a plant, a port facility and storage area at Edward's Cove, access roads, accommodations and an airport. See page 4 for a map of the site.

The site map also shows the Landscape Region of 20,000 km² identified by VBNC as the geographic basis for VBNC's assessment of terrestrial, aquatic, and marine ecosystems potentially affected by the Project.

VBNC's preferred shipping route extends from Edward's Cove to the east end of Paul's Island and then passes north of the Hens and Chickens. VBNC prefers to ship using an extended shipping season. This would entail no shipping during the period of initial ice formation and during early spring.

During mining and concentrating operations, the Project would produce mine rock and tailings that could generate acid. There is a proposal to place these materials under a permanent water cover to inhibit acid generation. Mine rock and tailings would be co-disposed in Headwater Pond during open pit mining, which is expected to last for the first eight years that the mine operates. During underground mining, tailings would be placed in the North Tailings Basin, located about 10 km northeast of the plant site, and acid generating mine rock would continue to be placed in Headwater Pond. Waste rock that did not generate acid would be stored in surface facilities.

Another important part of the project description is the water management plan, which encompasses all stages of the mine operation. The key objectives of this plan are to reduce environmental effects on freshwater and marine habitats, to use as much reclaimed water from within the water management system as possible and to recycle water within the mill as much as possible.

Upon closure, the project site would be decommissioned and reclaimed to return it to a safe and environmentally stable condition.

Direct on-site employment would peak at approximately 950 during the underground phase. During operations, VBNC proposes transporting workers to the project by aircraft from pick-up points in local communities. Living accommodations would be provided on site for workers as no town site is planned.