The Ekati diamond mine’s owners say a proposed expansion will be ‘key’ to unlocking the mine’s remaining potential and keeping jobs in the North.
Brendan Bell, the chief executive of Dominion Diamond Corporation, spoke at the beginning of a three-day public hearing into the mine’s environmental impacts.
The proposal, dubbed the Jay pipe, is located near Ekati’s existing Misery pit. Dominion believes opening up Jay – by building a dyke, draining part of a lake and digging an open pit – will keep the mine open for an additional 11 years, to 2030.
“We feel strongly that there is a way to develop this project on an economic basis, given that the infrastructure of the mine already exists,” said Bell as Monday’s hearing began at Yellowknife’s Explorer Hotel.
“This is a project that is responsibly designed, both socially and environmentally. Our company takes very seriously our responsibility to undertake the Jay project in an environmentally responsible manner.”
Almost two years have passed since the Jay project was first referred for environmental assessment.
In written discourse since, the security and health of the region’s caribou herds has emerged as a major concern of Aboriginal groups. Dominion says its plans make every reasonable concession to caribou, including a “road mitigation plan” designed to reduce the risk caribou face from the mining operation.
Tuesday’s continuation of the public hearing will see Dominion make specific presentations on caribou and wildlife, while the company will address aquatic concerns at the Tree of Peace on Wednesday. Each session begins at 8:30am.
Joanne Deneron, who chairs the Mackenzie Valley Review Board leading these hearings, said concerns over caribou numbers “underscore the seriousness of the board’s responsibilities” regarding the Jay project.
Bell, in turn, underlined the forecast economic impact of opening the Jay pit for mining.
“The Jay project serves to soften the adverse economic and population effects of the closures of other operating mines,” he said, noting the territory’s concern over a flagging population and stagnant economy.
“Dominion Diamond believes there will be a significant effect on the economy and population of the NWT if the Jay project does not proceed.”
Last week, Dominion announced positive results from a preliminary economic assessment of another project at Ekati, dubbed Sable.
The company says the Sable kimberlite pipe, for which permitting is already in place, could see construction begin as early as next year – with mining beginning in 2019.
Dominion says Sable and Jay have “operating synergies” in that they could share a significant number of resources and facilities.
“We view the Jay project as the key that could potentially unlock long-term opportunities at the Ekati mine,” said Bell.
A range of parties, from federal and territorial government agencies to Aboriginal groups, will question Dominion in front of the review board over the coming three days. Further hearings follow in Behchoko (Thursday, September 17), Lutselk’e (Saturday, September 19) and Kugluktuk (Monday, September 21).
After these hearings, the Mackenzie Valley Review Board will make its recommendation to the minister regarding whether or not the project should go ahead.