Kemess North mine denied, but Amazay Lake’s future still uncertain

The Amazay Lake has been saved—for now. The federal and B.C. provincial governments have jointly announced that they will not allow Northgate Minerals Corporation’s Kemess North mining project to go ahead as planned.

In October 2006, the Straight ran a story on Northgate’s proposal to extend the life of its Kemess South copper and gold mine by 11 years by developing another ore body known as Kemess North.

According to a March 10 Tse Keh Nay First Nations media release, an expansion of the Kemess North mine would have turned the six-kilometre-long Amazay Lake—also known as Duncan Lake—into a “tailings dump”.

A March 7 B.C. Ministry of Environment and Fisheries and Oceans Canada media release stated that Northgate’s proposal included a new open-pit mine, modification of the existing mill and related infrastructure, and “putting more than 700 tonnes of sulphide tailings and waste rock from the new mine in nearby Duncan Lake”.

In a March 7 letter to Ken Stowe, chief executive officer of Northgate Minerals Cooperation, B.C. minister of environment Barry Pennerwrote:

In reaching this conclusion we note that the proposed Project would have considerable implications for environmental and cultural values. These include the loss of Duncan Lake (also known as Amazay Lake), impacts on First Nations interests in the Project area, and certain long-term environmental risks”¦

However, Penner’s letter, which was sent also on behalf of B.C.’s minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources, Richard Neufeld, continues in a more cordial tone:

[The government’s] overarching recommendation is not applicable to every possible proposal respecting mine activity in this area. More specifically, we wish to note that nothing in this decision prevents Northgate from seeking to reconfigure any aspect of the Project or the factors considered by the Panel.”¦

More specifically, we wish to make clear that we are not holding that a mine project can never receive approval in circumstances where a lake is used to manage tailings for a long term into the future, as use of a lake for such purposes may be appropriate. Similarly, we are not holding that a mine can never proceed in circumstances where there is some degree of opposition by, or an adverse impact on, First Nations, although the interests of First Nations will be seriously considered.

The federal and provincial government’s decision took into account a lengthy report drafted by an independent environmental-assessment panel, which the Straight reported on in September 2007.