After considering dozens of claims for compensation totalling millions of dollars, the team overseeing the cleanup of Giant Mine just outside of Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, has arrived at a total amount it feels should be paid out for damages caused by the cleanup — zero.
The claimants include the City of Yellowknife, boaters and the Yellowknife Historical Society. They want to be compensated for damages they say they are going to suffer when access is closed off to areas around the Giant Mine townsite including a city boat launch, the historical society’s museum, and the Great Slave Sailing Club’s boat yard.
In filings with the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, the cleanup team says it needs to close off the area to remove contaminated soil and sediment, put a covering over contaminated lake bottom and build a water pipe out into the lake for a new water treatment plant it is constructing.
No one from the federal cleanup team or the City of Yellowknife was available for an interview for this story.
In an email response, the city said it is “eager to work with the Project and the Government of the Northwest Territories to avoid, or mitigate, any impact the Project might have on residents by exploring any and all options.”
In filings with the land and water board, the city says that, until recently, the federal team overseeing the cleanup estimated the closure would continue for years.
The team now says it will be far shorter. It says it is planning to build a new boat launch at the sailing club in an effort to avoid any interruption of people’s access to Great Slave Lake while the existing boat launch is shut down.
City claims rejected
The biggest claim for compensation is being made by the City of Yellowknife.
It wants to be paid $1.3 million for each year public access to the boat launch and sailing club areas is interrupted. The city is also claiming the full $34.5 million cost of replacing an aging underwater pipeline it uses to draw the city’s drinking water from the Yellowknife River.
In its response, the federal Giant Mine team says the city is asking to be compensated for work it wants done.
The team said it initially planned to clean up the site to an industrial standard but, at the city’s insistence and an additional cost of $35 million, the team is now cleaning it up to a residential standard.
In its response, the team points out that the federal government has agreed to pay three quarters of the cost of replacing the drinking water pipe. It says the pipe has to be replaced because it’s 50 years old, not because of the cleanup project.
Boaters not eligible for compensation
Members of the sailing club and boaters who use the city launch at Giant also filed claims. The sailors said the sailing club is the only place they can crane their boats in and out of the water, and if it’s shut down for years it would render their boats worthless.
“Boaters, sailors and others navigating on water do not fit any of the categories, and are not eligible to make compensation claims,” wrote the project team, referring to categories defined in the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.
“They cannot make a claim on the sole basis of their boating and sailing activities.”
The sailing club sued for lost revenue, including fees for membership, boat storage and sailing lessons. The cleanup team noted the lease agreement the club has with the city allows for the lease to be terminated with six months notice to allow for remediation work. The same provision is in the lease between the city and the Yellowknife Historical Society for the museum site.
“The recreational boaters who have submitted claims for compensation stand to benefit directly from the Project,” said the cleanup team in its response to the claims. “They currently make use of a contaminated site.”
The land and water board has given the claimants until Dec. 5 to counter the federal cleanup team’s arguments.
Related stories from around the North:
Finland: Mining companies to pay higher deposits for environmental damage in Finland, Yle News
Greenland: Greenland isn’t for sale, but it is for lease, Cryopolitics Blog
Norway: Minister downplays environmental impact of planned mine in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer
Russia: Major rare metal plant planned for Russia’s central Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer
Sweden: Kiruna, an Arctic Swedish town built and relocated for mining, Cryopolitics Blog
United States: Fight over contested Alaska mine project aired at US House hearing, Alaska Public Media