Northerners not ready to cash in on massive mine cleanup in Arctic Canada, report says

There are piles of rusted metals, pipes, wood and debris scattered throughout Giant Mine. The project will be one of the biggest in the Northwest Territories once remediation moves forward. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)
The $1-billion cleanup of Giant Mine will be one of the largest economic projects in Canada’s Northwest Territories (central Arctic), but northerners aren’t ready to take advantage of it, according to the latest report from the board overseeing the project.

The ongoing project could be a boon to northern contractors and workers, with $36.3 million spent in 2017-18 and $40.3 million in 2016-17 for care and maintenance work, such as tearing down buildings, repairing electrical equipment and keeping the site safe.

But only 20 per cent of the workers on those projects were from the North and only four per cent Indigenous, continuing downward trends from previous years, the Giant Mine Oversight Board reported in its 2018 annual report, released Tuesday.

“It appears that local companies have had some success in getting contracts,” the report states.

“However, not enough local residents have been hired for available jobs. None of the parties has provided the training and career development needed to help local residents prepare for job opportunities.”

Giant Mine processed gold and ore for more than 50 years outside Yellowknife, the territorial capital. It closed almost two decades ago and sits on about 237,000 tonnes of toxic arsenic trioxide dust. The federal government is responsible for its cleanup, which is expected to ramp up over the next decade.

The economic opportunities connected with the cleanup could be similar to opening a new mine and northerners need to benefit from it, the report states.

It’s calling on the federal government to develop and follow through on a strategy that makes sure northerners get the most out of this project and improve their lives in the North.

That was one of 11 recommendations included in the oversight board’s report. Others include:

  • Develop a long-term project plan leading up to the end of the remediation work.
  • Increase transparency and communication with the public.
  • Increase the City of Yellowknife’s involvement in the project.
  • Respond to the Yellowknives Dene First Nation’s request for an apology and compensation for historic operations at Giant Mine.

This report isn’t the first time the oversight board raised the issue of northern employment in the remediation project. It made a similar recommendation to develop a socio-economic strategy in last year’s report.

The Giant Mine site is located within Yellowknife city limits, about five kilometres from downtown. The oversight board’s annual report suggests the federal team needs to do more to prepare northerners for the economic benefits that will come with remediation. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

“The project has the potential to inject hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy over the coming decades,” the report states. “One of the [oversight board’s] greatest concerns is the slow progress of the project team and others to prepare local communities and businesses for the socio-economic benefits that will be increasingly available.”

Officials with the federal team overseeing the project have previously said northern companies are encouraged to bid for work on the project and companies are mandated to hire local.

Work on the remediation is set to ramp up once the project gets approval from the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board on its application for a water licence and land use permit for the site, which is approximately five kilometres from downtown Yellowknife.

Public hearings on the water licence are set for January 2020 and a final decision could be issued later that spring.

The Giant Mine Oversight Board will hold its annual public meeting May 1 at 7 p.m. in the main hall of Northern United Place in Yellowknife to discuss its recommendations further.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Diamond mine in Canada’s Northwest Territories wants to dump waste into its pits, CBC News

Finland: Stricter mining regulations and oversight needed in the Arctic, Finnish report says, Yle News

Norway: Minister downplays environmental impact of planned mine in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Coal businesses sign deal for giant terminal in northwest Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Iron mine in northern Sweden to restart production, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Final hearing on planned mine in southcentral Alaska draws mix of views, Alaska Public Media

Alex Brockman, CBC News

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