3.3 Giant Mine, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
The Giant mine is a gold mine located five kilometres north of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. The first claims for what is now the Giant mine were staked in 1935 by Baker and Muir for Burwash Yellowknife Mines Limited. In 1937, Giant Yellowknife Gold Mines incorporated and acquired the claims and continued work through the 1930s and 1940s. In 1943, Frobisher Exploration Company acquired operating control of Giant Yellowknife Gold Mines and the Giant property, and in 1948, gold production began at the Giant mine.16
From 1948 until 1999, the Giant mine used a roasting operation for its gold ore. During this process, arsenic, in the form of arsenic trioxide, and sulphur dioxide, were emitted. From 1948-1951, no pollution control devices were used and as much as 7300 kg/day of arsenic trioxide went up the stack. In 1951, an electrostatic precipitator was installed to reduce emissions, and in 1959, a baghouse dust collector was installed to reduce emissions to a few hundred kilograms per day.17 The filtered arsenic trioxide dust was collected and put in five underground chambers built to contain the dust, and in 1976, was also put in mined-out stopes (areas from which ore had been extracted). Later another five chambers were built to hold the growing amount of arsenic trioxide. The arsenic trioxide dust was added to the underground chambers until 1999. Today, 237 000 tonnes of the dust are stored underground on the Giant mine site.18 A drainage and pumping system catches mine water, which is treated.
The mine had a series of owners in the last fifty years, including Falconbridge and Giant Resources Limited. In 1990, Royal Oak Resources purchased the interests of Giant Resources Ltd. and Pamour Inc. and in the following year, amalgamated with companies in the Pamour and Giant Yellowknife groups. Royal Oak operated the mine from 1990 until April 1999 when it was placed in receivership. On December 13, 1999, the federal court conveyed Royal Oak’s Northwest Territories properties to the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND).
Since 1970, the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) has administered the surface lease, but DIAND has all liabilities for underground (including the stored arsenic trioxide) as well as enforces the water licence for the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board (MVLWB). The responsibility for non-water related surface liability needs to be negotiated. In the meantime, GNWT and DIAND have agreed to cost-share work that is clearly land related.
DIAND and GNWT have jointly funded some surface clean-up at the site, including removal of metal debris, barrels, batteries, waste oils, reagent chemicals, and contaminated soils on site. There is some debate about who is responsible for the surface clean-up once Miramar ceases operations. Miramar has to give the federal government one month’s notice of shut-down at which time Miramar is responsible for assuring compliance of the property for an additional six months. After that time, complete liability falls back to the government. GNWT has initiated negotiations with DIAND as to whether GNWT has any responsibility. So far negotiations have not progressed. The cost of only the surface clean-up is estimated at $8-$17 million.
Since the time of Royal Oak’s insolvency, DIAND has been looking at ways to remediate the mine site and deal with the underground arsenic. They set up the Royal Oak Project Team to manage the properties abandoned by Royal Oak – the Giant mine and Colomac mine. In 1999, however, due to the complexities of the issues involved, and the resources needed to deal adequately with each, responsibility for the Colomac mine site was given to the Contaminants Division of DIAND and the Giant mine site to the Giant Mine Project Team.
Miramar Giant Mine Limited (MGML) holds the Giant Mine Water Licence and is directly responsible for compliance with its Terms and Conditions, including the submission of an Abandonment and Restoration Plan (A&R Plan) and an Arsenic Trioxide Management Project Description to the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board (MVLWB). MGML presented an A&R Plan to the MVLWB in the fall of 2001. In agreeing to retain the liability for the environmental state of the Giant mine at the time of its sale to MGML, DIAND committed to assist in the preparation of the AS203 Management Project Description. Subsequently, DIAND’s GMPT assumed full responsibility for preparing the Project Description, but it is still MGML’s legal responsibility to submit it to the MVLWB.
3.2.2 Nature and Level of Community Involvement
While there has been community concern with the health and environmental effects of the arsenic produced by the mine for almost the entire life of the mine, there has been very little formal community involvement in issues around the Giant mine. Much of the concern over the years has been from the emissions (both arsenic and sulphur dioxide). Although there have been no emissions since 1999, community members still worry about the effects and levels of arsenic in the soils, water, and food chain. They are also concerned about the safety of the 237 000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide dust stored underground.
The community members of Yellowknife and the Dene communities of Ndilo and Dettah have been concerned with the health and environmental effects of arsenic as long as the mine has been operating. Long-term residents of the three communities tell stories of the smell and taste of suphur and arsenic as far back as the 1950s.19 The Yellowknives Dene elders remember that in the early 1950s, two children died drinking melt-water from snow that was contaminated with arsenic. Around the same time, some dairy cows and a team of sled dogs in the community also died.
In the 1970s, Yellowknife residents were tested for arsenic poisoning, and when results showed relatively high levels, a task force was set up (by the Canadian Public Health Association). Subsequently, the intake point for water for Yellowknife was moved, as levels of arsenic in drinking water were high. Further reductions in stack emissions were recommended but never happened. The Task Force released a final report in 1977.
Elders of the Yellowknives Dene report that there have been significant changes in local fish, wildlife and berries, and they believe that cancer rates have increased among their community since the gold mines began operating. They no longer trust the food and water supply on their lands near the mine site, and now report traveling 15 miles away to hunt, fish, and gather berries. Many community members won’t fish out of Back Bay as they are concerned about the amount of arsenic in the sediments of the Bay and Baker Creek.
In 1971, the first meeting of Ecology North convened. It brought together a group of concerned citizens, specifically organizing around issues at the Giant mine. Ecology North has since become active around a number of issues and do not focus as much of their energies on the mine.
A multi-stakeholder group, Yellowknife Arsenic Soils Remediation Committee, was established a few years ago to determine potential health risks due to arsenic in soils both on and off the mine site. This group – a committee involving governments, community groups, and industry – is almost finished its work and releases its report in the spring of 2002. To date, this has been the only multi-stakeholder effort established to deal with any issue regarding the Giant mine or the arsenic problem. As a result of this group, some soil testing has been done in the community over the last several years, and local remediation criteria for arsenic in industrial-, recreational-, and residential-use soils are being determined.
Dene and Metis communities were both members of the Yellowknife Arsenic Soils Remediation Committee. DIAND recently funded testing on local berries that was carried out by the Dene. If remediation efforts were to proceed, they would like to be involved in the work as they feel that they have a vested interest in the work being done well, and as such feel they would do a better job than a contractor who was not connected to the land.
DIAND commissioned a report by Lutra Associates to determine the awareness of the Giant mine and the arsenic trioxide in the local population. It was found that most local residents had knowledge of “lots of arsenic” at the Giant mine, even if they were not particularly aware of specifics. Most people relied on local media, observation, and word of mouth for information rather than from official documents or technical reports. Some community members felt that “irregular and poor presentation” of information from the government and industry, and the apparent “lack of willingness to share information” with the public is the reason why they are not as informed or as “confident in their knowledge as they should be.” 20
Despite the government’s stance that the levels of arsenic are not a problem, the report noted that many in the community perceive “a burnt landscape, dead and unsafe vegetation, lack of fish and waterfowl, harm to animals, poor water quality, health problems, death and continued stress within the population as examples of the harm that has been done.”21
The community has observed and lived with the consequences of the above-ground effects of the arsenic (from the stack) for many years. They are less sure about the risks and effects of the arsenic trioxide dust stored underground, and they are unsure about what a clean-up would entail, but feel action should be taken.
Community members are concerned about the stored arsenic and its potential danger to the community’s water supply. The arsenic trioxide is soluble in water and there is evidence of groundwater movement through cracks in the bedrock. In the mine water pumped up to the surface, elevated levels of arsenic have been detected, indicating that leaching is taking place. While this mine water is treated before release, there is concern about the danger to the local watershed. The vaults where the arsenic is stored underground are a kilometre from Great Slave Lake and the entire Mackenzie River watershed.
188.8.131.52 The Giant Mine Project Team and Community Involvement
The Giant Mine Project Team (GMPT) has been looking into remediation at the mine site since the team was established in 1999 (some work was being done as early as 1997). They held technical workshops – to which representatives from government, community groups and First Nations were invited – in 1997, 1999, and 2001 to review and discuss management options presented to them by hired consultants. Over the three years, GMPT has commissioned several studies on the technical aspects of the mine site remediation.
In 2000, SKR Consulting was hired to oversee the major areas of arsenic trioxide assessment, with the view to finding management alternatives for the dust. SRK was asked to assess the risks to people and the environment if the dust were not managed (as a base case scenario), and then to determine alternatives that represented different ways to manage the arsenic trioxide dust. For each alternative, they were to assess and describe the method, risk and associated cost.
In May 2001, a report entitled “Study of Management Alternatives – Giant Mine Arsenic Trioxide Dust” was released. SRK came up with four types of options:
The costs for these ranged from $50 million to $400 million, with the lowest risk and cheapest option being to leave it in the ground.
In 2001, the GMPT set up a public registry to allow community members to access reports and information about the mine remediation. Open houses have been held in 1999, 2001 and 2002, and public displays were set up on the main street or in the downtown mall in each of 1999, 2001 and 2002.
The Project Team held six community meetings in February and March 2002 – two in each community – Yellowknife, Dettah, and Ndilo – at which community members were able to ask questions and get information about the remediation plan.
In March 2002, a study by GeoNorth (for DIAND) reported the need for a Community Liaison Committee as identified by the City of Yellowknife, participants at a Management Alternatives Workshops (held July 11-12, 2001), and members of other non-governmental organizations. In the terms of reference, DIAND acknowledged the need for a community consultative body and asked GeoNorth to research examples, identify their strengths and weaknesses and propose a model for Yellowknife. The proposed mandate of the Community Liaison Committee was identified as including “serving as a communication bridge between government and the community, as well as advising government and the community regarding research, the future use of the Giant mine site, reclamation options, and both underground and surface clean-up of the site.” 22 GeoNorth also reported on the status of the Peer Review Team (PRT) that was established in mid-2001 and is now being expanded.
The Community Liaison Committee will be made up of representatives from the Yellowknives Dene, the North Slave Metis Alliance, the City of Yellowknife, local ENGOs, and the public-at-large, and will have one independent Chairperson.23 While DIAND and GNWT do not intend to sit on the committee, they do intend to help establish the terms of reference for the committee. The committee will report to the community and to DIAND.
The Giant Mine Project Team is continuing efforts to move forward with the abandonment and reclamation plan in the face of a range of community views. Some feel decisions should be made and action taken based on studies and consultations already conducted, while others feel that more information is needed. There is the perception by part of the community that it was not involved in the setting of priorities for the remediation, and as such, that this attempt to get approval so late in the process must be “window dressing.” While DIAND did hold public meetings in 1999, 2001, 2002, there is still a feeling by some in the community that DIAND has already chosen the remediation option it intends to use, and that the consultations held now are to get the public to consent to it.
At the time of the interviews conducted for this report (July 2002), the deadline for the Abandonment and Remediation Plan for the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board was October 1, 2002, and the Community Liaison Committee had not yet been set up. Many of the community members interviewed were wondering how effective community involvement would be if it must make its recommendations on such a short timeline. At the time of the interviews conducted, several of the groups identified to be on the Community Liaison Committee had not been formally notified.
Since the time of interviews for this report, an extension has been requested so that DIAND can complete its community consultations. Extensive community consultations, developed and presented with the assistance of the Community Liaison Committee, will start later this fall (2002).
While the intentions of the Giant Mine Project Team may have been to get a handle on the technical information and possible options for remediation before setting up the Community Liaison Committee, a better approach might have been to involve the community in this capacity earlier in the process. It might have resulted in the same outcome or action being taken, but with more capacity and trust built in the community. There seems to be some disagreement on what the appropriate level of community “involvement” should be, as despite the public meetings and workshops held by DIAND, there is still a substantial level of mistrust and frustration within the community. DIAND insists it has carried out consultations since the beginning, yet there is still frustration at the process and a large portion of the community claiming to have not been adequately consulted.
Despite the complicated nature of the technical aspects of the remediation, getting the community involved and “up to speed” on the technical concerns might help to build trust in the process. The community would have more understanding of the complexities of the decisions, and thus be more understanding and supportive of the government’s decisions.
If communities are consulted near the end of a process to decide on remediation options, there is the risk that members will feel that the consultations at this point are merely “window dressing” for a decision that has already been made.
Involving the community from the beginning, including in the setting of priorities, may involve a considerable time commitment, but the process engenders a level of trust in the process and the agency responsible. If consultations are underway from the beginning, there should be feedback mechanisms to gauge what level of satisfaction with the process is occurring at the community level. Communities want to be consulted on issues that affect them. Having been consulted, members will be more vested in the decisions made.
Last updated: 2003-09-26
© National Orphaned/Abandoned Mines Initiative (NOAMI) 2004