An environmental organization says a proposed copper mine just south of Highway 39 within the boundaries of Grass River Provincial Park is an affront to Manitobans who are opposed to industrial activity in the province’s park.
“It’s a park, “ said Eric Reder, Manitoba campaign director with the Wilderness Committee, in a press release. “I thought parks were the one place we could escape mining and find solace in undisturbed nature. This mine is a slap in the face of all Manitobans who, like me, value protecting wilderness.”
Reder says the Wilderness Committee has collected over 25,000 letters to the government from Manitobans who oppose mining, logging and other industrial activities in provincial parks.
Grass River Provincial Park, which covers an area of 2,279 square kilometres, is classified by the provincial government as a natural park, intended to “preserve areas that are representative of the Churchill River Upland portion of the Precambrian Boreal Forest Natural Region, and the Mid-Boreal portion of the Manitoba Lowlands Natural Region.” Under that classification, however, commercial activities such as forestry and mining are permitted “where such activities do not compromise the other park purposes.”
The proposed Reed Mine, for which Hudbay is seeking approval from the Environmental Assessment and Licensing Branch of Manitoba Conservation, is located about 80 kilometres southwest of Snow Lake. Exploration activities are currently underway and Hudbay, which owns 70 per cent of the project, hopes to extract 1,300 tonnes of copper per day if the mine is approved.
The proposed mine is expected to be in production for approximately five years, during which time 2.16 million tones of copper ore will be extracted and then trucked to and processed in Flin Flon, according to a project overview prepared by AECOM on behalf of Hudbay. At full production, the mine would provide 88 jobs, the company says.
Under a previously approved advanced exploration project (AEP), Hudbay has upgraded the previously existing access road, constructed a site office and change house, and built a 2,500-cubic-metre polishing pond and waste pad, as well as a maintenance shop and warehouse. It has also developed the portal and decline needed to provide access to the ore body to a depth of 30 metres. The AEP site consists of about seven cleared hectares of land, half of the originally planned 14 hectares. If the mine is approved, Hudbay would also construct a 50-person camp at the site along with one 18,927-litre holding tank for the storage of sewage and grey water.
Reder says that allowing exploration activities to proceed so far before an Environmental Act License is approved makes the public consultation process farcical. Feb. 19 was the deadline to submit comments on the project to the Environmental Assessment and Licensing Branch.
“As is often the case with the Manitoba government, the construction on site is so far along as to render the public consultation meaningless,” said Reder. “Even without full approval of this mine, the impact of this exploration will be visible in the forest for the next half century.”
Past mining projects within the park show, says Reder, that the environmental impact of mineral extraction doesn’t necessarily stop when production does. Grass River Provincial Park was also the site of Hudbay’s Spruce Point Mine, which was in operation from 1981 to 1992. In a video of a visit to that site filmed in September 2011, Reder points out refuse including scrap metal and machine parts as well as areas devoid of vegetation.
“This points to a dangerous and invisible threat to this area – toxic soil that is contaminated with heavy metal,” Reder says in the video, which can be seen on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXel7or6hd4
Manitoba’s Green Party says the Reed Mine project could be a threat to wildlife in the area.
“If allowed to proceed, the Reed Lake Mine will destroy the woodland caribou herd which the park was intended to protect,” said Kate Storey, a Green Party council member and former researcher of the Reed lake woodland caribou herd with Manitoba Conservation, in a press release. “Five years of industrial activity means five years of calf deaths to the caribou herd already endangered from logging. This mine may very well be the tipping point which destroys one of Manitoba’s last herds of woodland caribou.”
The Green Party is concerned that the location of the proposed Reed Mine and the exploration activities currently taking place will disrupt the spring migration of woodland caribou, which give birth to calves on the islands of Reed, Iskwasum and Simonhouse lakes, which are all located within Grass River Provincial Park. According to the party, caribou calves typically die within a week if their mothers can not get to the islands, where they are protected from wolves.
“Parks are formed where there is some natural wonder of particular value to the people in Manitoba. Grass River Provincial Park was created to protect the wildlife of Reed Lake. Now the Manitoba NDP are willing to throw away wildlife preservation in favour of five short years of copper ore” says James Beddome, leader of the Manitoba Greens. “By allowing Hudbay mining to start construction before consulting the public, the NDP have clearly signalled that they value money more than wildlife. In five years, the ore from this mine will be exhausted and the jobs will be gone, but the caribou herd will be decimated.”
The Wilderness Committee says Manitoba is one of only a few jurisdictions in the world that still allow mining in parks. The Green Party is asking the provincial government to stop development of the Reed Lake Mine and to end all mining activities in Manitoba’s provincial parks.
“There are countless other locations for mines in this province,” says Beddome. “Sacrificing the Reed Lake caribou herd for five short years of profit is just an example of shameless greed.”