Concerned Baker Lake residents question public support for Areva proposal

CBC: February 18, 2009

Only a plebiscite can determine whether a proposed uranium mine has public support, according to a group of residents in Baker Lake, Nunavut.

The Baker Lake Concerned Citizens Committee says it wants an investigation into how the Nunavut Planning Commission ruled that Areva Resources Canada Inc.'s proposal to dig a uranium mine meets all stipulations in the Keewatin Regional Land Use Plan.

The citizens' committee, which is concerned about uranium mining in the area, argues that Areva's proposal does not fully meet Section 3.6 of the plan — that any uranium mining proposal "must be approved by the people of the region," according to the plan document.

Areva wants to dig an open-pit and underground uranium mine at its Kiggavik site, about 80 kilometres west of Baker Lake, a hamlet of 1,728.

The committee acknowledged that the Kivalliq Inuit Association and the hamlet of Baker Lake have passed resolutions supporting Areva's proposal, and said the Nunavut Planning Commission held a workshop with local residents and organizations.

Still, committee spokeswoman Joan Scottie told CBC News, that is not enough to constitute public approval.

"They held a single workshop in Baker Lake on June 5 to 7, 2007. The participants were not told that the meeting was going to be used to justify proceeding with uranium mining in the region," Scottie said in an interview.

"The only mechanism that can implement this term of the Keewatin Land Use plan is [a] public plebiscite."

Reviews look at health, environmental protection

Uranium mining development being proposed in Nunavut's Keewatin region — also known as the Kivalliq region — must be reviewed by the Nunavut Planning Commission, the Nunavut Impact Review Board, the Nunavut Water Board and the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board.

Those reviews must pay "particular attention to questions concerning health and environmental protection," according to Section 3.5 of the land-use plan.

When the Nunavut Planning Commission referred Areva's proposal to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, it said the proposal met all the requirements set out in the Keewatin Land Use Plan.

"With respect to sections 3.5 and 3.6 of the [Keewatin Regional Land Use Plan], which require review of all issues relevant to uranium exploration and mining by the [Nunavut Planning Commmission], as well as approval of the people of the region, the NPC has concluded that these requirements have been met," read the commission's letter, dated Jan. 16, and signed by Brian Aglukark, its director of regional planning.

Scottie's committee raised their concerns in a Feb. 10 letter to the impact review board, which is now determining whether to conduct a full-scale environmental review of Areva's proposal.

The impact review board gave the public until Wednesday to submit comments.

A lawyer with the Nunavut Planning Commission would not comment on the criteria it used to decide whether Areva's proposal conforms with the land-use plan. The lawyer told CBC News the decision speaks for itself, but added that he was aware that Scottie's group had submitted a letter of concern.

But according to a 2007 communique posted on Areva's website, the planning commission had suggested that Section 3.6 of the land-use plan would be satisfied with resolutions of support from the Kivalliq Inuit Association, the hamlet of Baker Lake and other hamlets in the region.

Scottie said the citizens' committee will forward its concerns on to the federal minister of Indian and northern affairs to investigate.

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