Feds want more from Agnico hovercraft plan

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If Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. wants to pursue using hovercraft at its Meadowbank and Amaruq sites near Baker Lake, it has to go back to the drawing board.

It’s back to the drawing board for Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. if it wants to introduce hovercraft, which it planned use on the 64-km road between its Meadowbank, bottom right, and Amaruq sites near Baker Lake. photo courtesy Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.

NIRB suggested in April that if the company wants to pursue the project, it should produce a new proposal to address public concerns on the hovercrafts’ potential to have unacceptable impacts on wildlife habitat or Inuit harvest activities.
In a letter dated July 14, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) supported the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB)’s determination that Agnico Eagle needed to modify or abandon the pilot project.
“Should Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. choose to resubmit a modified proposal, I encourage them to carefully review the board’s screening decision report, especially considering the board’s recommendation that the proponent conduct an approved research study in consultation with interested parties on the potential effects of the usage of hovercraft, conducts community consultation sessions with concerned parties, works with the Kivalliq Inuit Association (KIA) to resolve concerns, and develop its Amaruq Wildlife Protection and Response Plan to reflect the potential impacts associated with hovercraft use,” wrote INAC’s Stephen M. Van Dine on behalf of Minister Carolyn Bennett.
“Agnico will take the necessary time to fully understand the concerns raised by the stakeholders about the hovercraft and look at possible mitigation measures. There’s no timeline, or when or if they will resubmit,” said Agnico’s Carol Lemieux.
According to NIRB executive director Ryan Barry, the Whale Tale pit proposal, located at the Amaruq site, is in the final phase of environmental assessment.
In its original application for the hovercrafts, which passed muster with the Nunavut Planning Commission in its conformity review with the Kivalliq Land Use Plan, Agnico proposed to purchase two.
“Hovercrafts have resolved numerous logistical and transportation problems in Northern and Arctic territories of Siberia and the Far East. It is expected that they will also be applicable in Nunavut and may have future all-season benefits for Nunavummiut,” stated the company’s Ryan Vanengen.
“The hovercrafts, by design, can be interchangeably used on water and land, while transporting people or industrial loads over small and large rivers, lakes, swamps, snow soil, packed ice bogs, tundra, and coastal seas throughout the year.”
Vanengen additionally noted “noise levels for one unit are about the same as two snowmobiles, the low ground pressure prevents impacts to the terrestrial environment and aquatic environment.”
The vehicles were to be used to transport personnel and light cargo on the 64-kilometre Amaruq Exploration Access Road, between the main Meadowbank mine site and its Amaruq satellite, and on the approved winter roads and designated trails to drilling properties on the Amaruq property on a year-round basis.
The company hoped a successful pilot year would lead to use beyond 2018.
“Compared with alternatives assessed, Agnico Eagle feels that the implementation of the hovercraft technology is the most cost-effective and best overall alternative for exploration from an environmental and economic perspective,” states the proposal.
However, KIA did not support the idea.
“KIA is sensitive to the use of novel technologies not currently used in Nunavut and on Inuit-owned land. At the present time KIA is not comfortable with the use of hovercraft technology as proposed and cannot currently support its use on Inuit-owned land,” stated KIA in its comments.
KIA’s main concerns were related to related wildlife and their habitats, and the lack of baseline information on wildlife, marine mammals, birds, fish and their habitats, heritage resources, traditional land uses, Inuit harvesting activities, community involvement and consultation and local development.