Ottawa agrees to independent oversight for Giant

Ottawa agrees to independent oversight for Giant
Remediation work is slowly erasing buildings of the former Giant Mine from the landscape. With its stack demolished in the first phase, the roaster complex is swathed in plastic to contain arsenic dust.Photo: Jack Danylchuk.

It took more than six years of intense lobbying, but Yellowknifers have a commitment from the federal government on key issues affecting the $1-billion remediation of the former Giant gold mine site.

Bernard Valcourt, minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, pledged to create an independent body to oversee the project, but stopped short of establishing a research centre dedicated to finding an alternative to the indefinite storage of Giant’s most lasting legacy – 237,000 tonnes of deadly arsenic trioxide.

Instead of a research centre, the managers of Canada’s most toxic industrial site will rely on research by existing institutions into a permanent solution for the arsenic, which is currently planned to be frozen in a secure underground vault in perpetuity.

The security of the present storage chamber has been threatened by flooding from Baker Creek, which bisects the former mine site and empties into Yellowknife Bay. Concern for the integrity of the chamber forced re-routing of the creek and Highway 3.

Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley is worried future governments might interpret federal responsibilities differently, “but the bottom line is that the minister has committed to ensuring the work gets done, and that seems a good start as a basis for accountability.”

Bromley said Valcourt’s accepting independent oversight for the ongoing remediation project “is about as good as it gets” with government.

“There’s a clear commitment to a legally-binding environmental agreement, to covering the costs and to a dispute resolution mechanism to ensure compliance and stable funding cover the fundamentals,” he said.

“We all know that much can be influenced by how effectively and timely this work is done, but I think there has been some solid basis provided for bringing accountability to hand.”

Kevin O’Reilly, spokesperson for Alternatives North, an environmental watchdog on the Giant file, said he is “thrilled with the changes in the federal government’s position” over six years of negotiation with the city, territorial government, Yellowknives Dene and North Slave Métis.

The oversight body is modeled after those that have kept watch on the diamond mines, O’Reilly noted, “and while there have been disputes, those have been settled.

“What we have today is a lot better than freeze it and forget it,” he concluded.

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