Lakes sacrificed to store tailings

The company Champion Iron said to be obliged to destroy lakes, streams, wetlands, and wooded areas to store the 872 million tonnes of tailings that will be produced over the next few years of exploitation of the iron mine Bloom lake, near Fermont. The ministry of the Environment estimated that the project could “touch” 38 the lakes, according to the information transmitted to the Duty. But for the moment, compensation measures that may be required of the promoter remain to be clarified.

Iron ore Québec (MFQ), a subsidiary of the australian mining Champion Iron, purchased this mine in northern Québec, with the support of Investissement Québec in 2016, after the cessation of production by the former owner, Cliffs Natural Resources. The company, which posted revenues of 785 million last year, now hopes to continue the exploitation of the deposit until 2040, at a rate of 15 million tonnes per year. The ore will be exported by boat from Sept-Îles.

For the life of the mine, MFQ evaluates its “storage requirements” of tailings and waste rock at 1.3 billion tonnes, of which 872 million tonnes that will need to be stored in new sites located near the pit of the mine. However, the mining states that “the area of land available” is insufficient. “The different options studied in the framework of the alternative land would not be economically viable in the framework of the project “, according to what we read in the impact study, including the “update” presented by 2019 totalling approximately 5000 pages.

Unlike some mining projects, MFQ rejects the idea of slowly fill up the pit with the residue. The disposal of tailings or waste rock in the pit is “counter-indicated in the circumstances in order not to jeopardize the exploitation of a resource potentially exploitable in the future,” says the impact statement, which will be the subject of a “public information meeting” of the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE), which will be held only in a virtual way, on the 29th of July next. Citizens have until 24 August to demand a ” public consultation “.

The company therefore considers that it will have absolutely backfilling of wetlands and hydric environments, in the filling of mining tailings, without which production is expected to shut down in 2027. The analysis refers to natural environments that will undergo perturbation, but also some that will be downright ” destroyed “. According to the impact assessment study has been submitted to the ministry of the Environment and the Fight against climate change (MELCC), 160 wetlands in total will be “affected” by the project, as well as 35 bodies of water and watercourses, including 16 lakes. Several of these lakes are home to fish communities diverse “

According to the data of the MELCC, how many lakes and ponds will be destroyed or affected by the project ? In a written response forwarded to the Duty, the ministry indicates that “the project is likely to touch 38 lakes and a pond,” but also that ” the project is likely to reach 41 streams “, without more details. The ministry simply refers to the study of the impact of several thousands of pages.

Compensation

It is also unclear yet what the MELCC could require as compensation for the destruction of all these natural environments. The area of this mine “is not within the territory of application of the Regulation on the compensation for the interference with wetlands and water,” says the ministry.

Under the Act on the quality of the environment, the government should, however, ” determine if a financial compensation is due, or if it can be replaced in whole or in part by the execution of works for the restoration or creation of wetlands and water “. But for the moment, no “recommendation” had been made. This should be done at the end of the” environmental analysis “.

Vice-president for investor relations at Champion Iron, Michael Marcotte argues that ” the encroachment on the plans and course of water will be offset by the realization of the work to offset losses to fish habitat “. Projects have already been designed, but the plans will have to be “approved” by the government authorities, he said. According to Mr. Marcotte, the current constraints in the mining sector ” are such that it is impossible to prevent the encroachment of future infrastructure on rivers and natural water bodies “.

In addition, the woodland caribou, a threatened species, is likely to attend that region. But the mining considers that the project “will not have a significant effect” on the habitat of caribou, since ” the current rate of disturbance of the habitat of the woodland caribou related to anthropogenic sources is very high, and that the latter is already avoiding the sector project “. And even after the eventual restoration of the site, ” this area will possibly not have the biophysical characteristics to meet the needs of habitat for the woodland caribou, and this, before several decades “.

In 2018, the government of Québec has authorized the mining ArcelorMittal to increase the size of its fleet of mine tailings, also in the region of Fermont. It is a question of storing 825 million tons of tailings by the year 2045, for a total of 1318 million tonnes between 2014 and 2045. In its report on the project, the BAPE stated that this project will lead to ” the destruction of 11 lakes, 15 lakes and 25 streams “. Added to this is a loss of habitat of 11.2 km2 for terrestrial wildlife. The mining has, therefore, provided a program of “restoration” to compensate for the loss of natural environments.

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