Stanley – About 250 people filled the Upper Nashwaak Lion’s Club on Thursday night to hear from federal government representatives and the Sisson Partnership on the mining company’s plan to use and destroy fish-bearing brooks for disposal of waste from a mine they plan to build on the headwaters of the Nashwaak. All of the nearly two dozen members of the public who spoke at a microphone expressed their disapproval of the plan.
The proponent, having already secured conditional approval from the federal and provincial governments to proceed with the mine, is seeking approval to have Sisson Brook, McBean Brook, Bird Brook, Lower Napadogan Brook and an unnamed tributary to the West Branch of Napadogan Brook exempted from the Metal Mines Effluent Regulations (MMER) of the Federal Fisheries Act, through the addition of these brooks to Schedule 2 of the regulation.
The MMER prohibits disposal of metal mining effluent into fish bearing habitat. Schedule 2 is a controversial amendment to the MMER that allows mining companies to dispose of its waste in designated freshwater bodies inhabited by fish.
Northcliff Resources, a Hunter Dickinson company, and Todd Minerals are behind the Sisson Partnership that aims to develop one of the world’s largest open-pit tungsten and molybdenum mines on public land near the communities of Napadogan, Juniper and Stanley.
Alma Brooks, Wolastoq Clan grandmother, was first to respond from the audience. She read a statement on behalf of Wolastoq Grand Council Chief Ron Tremblay who could not be there. “You do not have permission from the Wolastoq Grand Council and our citizens to damage, alter or molest Wolastoquk Maliseet homeland and waterways,” stated Brooks who said that if the mine is approved, the mining company and the Canadian government would be in violation of Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution that recognizes and affirms existing Aboriginal treaty rights of indigenous people.
Wolastoqiyik grandmothers are currently occupying and protecting the Bird Brook area, the location of the mine’s planned tailings dam site and tailings disposal area. The Grandmothers, with the help of allied organizations have built two tiny homes and are busy hosting visitors interested in learning about the land and the treaties signed between the indigenous people and the Crown.
Maggie Connell, a retired teacher from Taymouth passionately asked, “How many of us here have kids and grandkids who swim in the Nashwaak and eat fiddleheads?” A room full of hands went up.
“Many of us have come here by choice. Others are from here, and have stayed here by choice. There is a perception that New Brunswickers are easy to manage. We are not,” said Connell who was there with her granddaughter. Connell spoke of the need to protect the land and water for future generations.
“It would be nice to have the jobs that the mine would bring, but we don’t want it if it means the destruction of our rivers with fish in them,” said Blaine Merrill, a resident of Stanley.
According to the Sisson Partnership, the company scored and weighted alternatives in their assessment of the best option for mine waste disposal. The crowd was informed that three tailings disposal technologies and five tailings storage facility locations were considered.
Don McDonald, a resident of Stanley, criticized the evaluation method. “You can tinker with the weights of any indicator to get the result you want.”
Peter Toner, President of the Nashwaak Watershed Association, told the government panel that the waste disposal technology is not best available technology: “There is a term in the industry, best available technology (BAT). I argue that this is not BAT but rather a CAT: the cheapest available technology.”
“New Brunswickers love their salmon and trout”
The Sisson mine’s waste storage plans are a key concern of residents, namely an 8 kilometre-long and 90 metre-high tailings dam, and the use of fish-bearing brooks.
The mining proponent plans to build a centre-line dam, which is similar to British Columbia’s Mount Polley dam. The Mount Polley tailings dam breached in 2014, contaminating Hazeltine Creek and salmon-bearing waterways downstream with a slurry of mine waste.
The Mount Polley Mining Corporation, owned by Imperial Metals, has never been charged or fined by Environment Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans or the British Columbia government for violating regulations on fish habitat and water quality. In January, the province of British Columbia stopped private charges that Bev Sellars, former Chief of Xat’sull First Nation, had filed.
Mining companies are required by law to compensate for loss of fish habitat. The Sisson Partnership plans to offset the loss of Atlantic salmon and trout habitat by removing a dam and culvert that would allow permanent fish passage into Nashwaak Lake, potential spawning and rearing habitat for gaspereau and possibly other fish.
Nathan Wilbur, a biologist with the Atlantic Salmon Federation, said the plan was inadequate and does not have his approval.
“New Brunswickers love their salmon and trout. We are not known for our gaspereau,” shouted one audience member whose comment was followed by applause.
Poor public consultation
Lawrence Wuest, who has been following the mine project’s plan for almost a decade since the project’s announcement, argued that the public is once again being asked to comment on the Sisson project with inadequate information.
Wuest asked about the whereabouts of the mine’s financial security plans and other documents that the proponent is supposed to have provided to meet the conditions of its environmental assessment approval by both the federal and provincial governments.
“With economic instability will come increased likelihood of contamination of the watershed and fish bearing habitat. We have to be assured that during economic downturns that the mine has adequate financing to ensure the integrity of fish bearing habitat,” said Wuest.
A young woman from the audience denounced the timing and location of the meeting that she said made it difficult for working people to attend.
“If it wasn’t for groups like the Conservation Council, we would not have known about this meeting,” said Amanda Wildeman, the Green Party’s candidate for Fredericton York in the upcoming provincial election.
Wildeman, a native of Alberta is a newcomer to Taymouth, recently settling on a farm on the banks of the Nashwaak River that she described as one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Patricia Saulis from the Maliseet Conservation Council said her organization was not consulted.
The almost four-hour meeting ended with a sobering call from Saulis. She asked for a moment of silence for the loss of life that will happen if the mine goes ahead.
The public has until May 3rd to submit comments on the plan to Environment and Climate Change Canada at firstname.lastname@example.org. Governor in Council, which is the Cabinet, will decide whether to approve Sisson Partnership’s plan.
Tracy Glynn writes for the NB Media Co-op and works with communities affected by mining around the globe.