The Deh Cho First Nations, Nahanni Butte Dene Band and Pehdzeh Ki First Nation, represented by Sierra Legal Defence Fund, will be in Federal Court tomorrow to challenge a water licence issued to Canadian Zinc Corporation for a mining development in the Northwest Territories. Canadian Zinc is attempting to reactivate a mine shelved since the 1980s, and has obtained the licence to support pilot drilling to determine mine feasibility. Sierra Legal will argue that Canadian Zinc’s water licence is invalid because it does not conform to an environmental assessment.
The First Nations are challenging the issuance of the water licence because it fails to include conditions to ensure waste water from the mine development does not contaminate Prairie Creek. Prairie Creek is a tributary to the South Nahanni River in Nahanni National Park Reserve, a renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the heart of Deh Cho First Nations’ traditional territory.
“The Dehcho First Nations will defend its traditional territory from environmental harm,” said Grand Chief Herb Norwegian.
During the environmental assessment, Canadian Zinc argued that a tailings pond located on the site was a sound and suitable option for preventing waste discharge water from its mining operation entering Prairie Creek. The environmental assessment required the tailings pond to pass a certification before mining operations commenced, but after the assessment was completed Canadian Zinc said the tailings pond was not sound and would not be used. The subsequent licence then excluded the requirement to certify the tailings pond even though it had been required in the environmental assessment as a necessary measure to protect Prairie Creek.
“If this licence is valid without including all necessary conditions to protect the environment, it basically threatens ongoing environmental assessment in the Mackenzie Valley,” said Sierra Legal Staff Lawyer Devon Page. “A developer could come into the north, say one thing to the environmental assessment board then turn around and say something else to the licensing board, and get the licence it wants.”