Lessons Learned

            The Galore Creek Project can be seen as a controversial project and some lessons were learned through the process which may be applied for similar mine projects. Canada is a strong country concerning the respect of Acts, Guidelines and Laws. Therefore, the EIA process was tightly respected for each step. More specifically, consultation and negociation with the public was perfectly followed. My first example concerns the Tahtlan First Nation and the TEK. For the construction of the road, to gain access to the Galore Creek Valley where the open pits are located, seven options were designed. The company wanted to have the Southern option because it was less expansive. However, the First Nation, during consultation, has raised many points to take into consideration. The environmental footprint and the ecosystem disturbance were greater with the Southern project compared to the Northern road. The impacts on wetlands, fisheries, and terrestrial wildlife were less important by the Northern Road. From that consultation, the company decided to relocate the road by choosing a modified option of the Northern road. This example demonstrates that sometimes, the voice of the public is heard.

            TEK was also used for the identification of the Valued Ecosystem Components (VEC). VECs are the environmental attributes identified as a result of a scoping exercise as having legal, scientific, cultural, economic, or aesthetic values. Once again, the First Nations were involved in the process of identification of theses valued components. These are important to preserve for a better environment and to limit the human impact on them.  

            Our second lesson learned during the evaluation of the environmental assessment of the Galore Mine Project was that environmental reports are repetitive; the material in the report can overlap but this can be seen as positive because no detail was forgotten in it. My judgment is mainly based on the monitoring, management and follow-up programs. Each detail was mentioned and often more than one time such as the frequency of the inspection and how they will proceed to set up the plans. The mitigation measures were not forgotten. They respected the triangle of mitigation; when avoidance was not possible, they set up mitigation actions and when this was no possible, they had monetary compensations. Avoidance was seen for the road; they modified the original plan to limit the impacts. Mitigation measures were taken to diminish acid rock drainage by building a dam and dispose the potential acid generating rocks subaqueously. Finally, monetary compensations were given to the Tahtlan First Nation for the loss of wetlands and for the indirect social impacts that the project might cause to their society.

            The next lesson learned was not directly linked to the project; it is based on the companies implied in the project. Unfortunately, their survival depends on profits. So, most of the major decisions were taken with an economic goal behind. In the case of the Galore Creek Project, the main stakeholder, NovaGold, took decisions based on their costs (for most of the infrastructure as well as the timeline). For example, they chose open pits instead of the underground pits because it was cheaper overall for the extraction process. However, open pits generate important amount of waste rocks which have to be stocked and moreover, these waste rocks might be acid generating and may result in even more environmental damage. For the timeline, they decided to temporarily close the mine in November 2007 because of the strong Canadian dollar. However, during this temporary closure, it cost millions for the maintenance of the site but it seems that it is cheaper than in fact operating the mine. 

            My next point about the lesson learned is about sustainability. Sustainability is the use of natural resources, such as minerals, that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It requires an ecosystem approach in the development. The Galore Creek mine is not a sustainable project; its expected time life is 20 years but the impacts from acid rock drainage, the human made infrastructure such as the tailing dam and the waste dumps as well as modification of the landscape will be perceived for many decades post-closure. In other words, the ecological footprint for this remote area, almost pristine, is enormous. This project was made to make profits and was not built for being sustainable even though the Environmental Assessment Office of British Columbia said that is not likely to cause any significant adverse environmental effects. 
            The closure of the mine brings me to the next lesson learned during the investigation of the EA report. It remains ambiguous the real reasons of this closure. The company stated that higher capital costs, longer construction schedule for the project combined with reduced operating margins from a stronger Canadian dollar made the project uneconomic. We have to ask the question: Are these the real reasons of the closure? Do they try to hide something to the public? From what we read, the dam might be the real reason of this closure. The size of the dam, the main infrastructure component of the mine, should probably be bigger than the first estimation because may more acid generating rocks will be produced. No matter what is the real reason, it lacks transparency.  


Last updated: April 16th, 2008