The north’s fragile ecosystem including its unique wildlife and the fact that many of its people still rely on hunting and fishing for sustenance requires constant vigilance on development. We believe at CARC that there is a general lack of proper cumulative impact data on many ventures such as roads, oil and gas exploration and mining. We also believe that these developments that promise economic abundance for local communities should also be reviewed regularly in order to show the worthiness of such projects; that the economic advantage stays in those communities and does not flow south.
We are now developing submissions on current developments:
The Grays Bay Road and Port Project (GBRP)is a transportation system that, once completed, will connect the rich mineral resources of Canada’s Slave Geological Province, which straddles Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, to arctic shipping routes. The GBRP consists of a 227 km all-season road linking the northern terminus of the Tibbitt-Contwoyto Winter Road to a deep-water port at Grays Bay on the Northwest Passage.
Our letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board
The Canadian Arctic Resources Committee (CARC) is Canada’s oldest citizen’s organization dedicated to environmental sustainability in the Arctic. We have a long history in commenting on environmental assessments in the Canadian North. Moreover, for decades, we have been a vocal supporter of caribou conservation for their own sake and for those who rely on them for food.
CARC is aware that the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) is now screening the Grays Bay Road and Port Project proposal. We also know that the Project’s proponents, the Government of Nunavut and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, have issued a joint press release outlining the “transformative nation-building socio-economic benefits” of the Project. We are writing in support a full federal environmental review of this project, with reasoning as outlined below.
While we certainly appreciate the socio-economic needs of the people of Nunavut, we believe that there is considerable public concern that building a road through the calving grounds of the Bathurst caribou herd will have a severely detrimental effect on these animals. Broad public concern is reflected and underscored by the fact that the government agencies, both federally and in the Northwest Territories, responsible for reviewing the status of wildlife species, have proposed that most barren-ground caribou populations be designated “threatened”. Final decisions from both jurisdictions are pending and should be announced this fall. Should these proposals be confirmed, an entirely new standard will have to be met when reviewing the proposed Grays Bay Road and Port Project.
The Bathurst caribou herd and, in fact, all other barren-ground caribou populations found in the surrounding area, have experienced a steep decline in numbers in recent years and their recovery is by no means guaranteed. The populations are suffering from the cumulative effects of climate change, new road building, new and existing resource development, resource exploration and unsustainable hunting levels. We are concerned that this Project will only serve to hinder the herd’s recovery. Moreover, we are worried that if caribou numbers continue to drop, the population will collapse thereby eliminating all hunting opportunities. This will jeopardize a major food source for local people and create a different kind of socio-economic problem for those who rely on them for food.
CARC is also in line with the considerable public concern that the proposed development will lead to additional pressure for construction of an all-weather road through the Northwest Territories to the southern end of the Grays Bay Road. This would provide year-round road access for hunters, mineral exploration companies and others via Yellowknife putting increased pressure on already dwindling caribou populations.
For many years, local communities and organizations like the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board (BQCMB) have spoken out against exploration and development within key caribou habitats. Even so, mineral exploration has continued to grow across the barren-ground caribou range. The BQCMB have also expressed concern about the building of new roads. They note that roads provide easier access to previously remote areas of caribou range for industry and hunters. Furthermore, they have stated that permanent all-season roads tend to create more problems for caribou than temporary winter roads. They have stated in their current management plan that: no new all-season roads should be allowed on the caribou ranges; no new winter roads should be allowed on calving and post-calving areas or key migration corridors; the development of any new roads should include plans for de-commissioning; and public access to project-related roads should be limited.
In the overview of the Project on the NIRB website, it states that the proponents of the Project are planning to restrict access to certain parts of the road or port to the public to prevent interactions with commercial users or sensitive wildlife. The proponents note that the Project crosses through land used by the Dolphin and Union, and Bathurst caribou herds. As such, they are seeking to develop and implement a broad range of measures to minimize effects on these animals. They state that the port will not be open when Dolphin Union caribou are crossing the Coronation Gulf in spring and fall. Moreover, they note that the road will be closed to vehicles when Bathurst caribou are calving near the corridor, that the side slopes of the road will be made flatter and packed down in areas where caribou are expected or known to cross and that construction activities will be shut down at times when large numbers of caribou are nearby.
The proponents also note that, during project construction, activities at the port could disrupt marine mammal and fish activities and that freshwater fish and their habitat may be locally impacted during road bridge construction. They state that they will implement best practices to prevent sediment from entering waters to minimize harm to fish. While we appreciate any efforts made to conserve these animal populations, we believe that the effects of global warming are already being seen in the north and that the Project will add to the increased levels of such activities as shipping already having a negative effect on aquatic species and migrating caribou, seabird and cetacean populations.
We also wonder the proponents have fully considered all the possible alternatives to road building. For example, there is the potential for new hybrid airships, now in development, to move materials to and from the new mine site. These new airships do not require a landing strip to be built, would seem likely to have much less impact on wildlife and may indeed be a lower cost option.
On your website, it states that the Project’s proponents are expecting a full environmental review. Given the potential impacts of the proposed development on threatened caribou populations, fish, marine mammals and all other wildlife in the area we agree and strongly recommend the proposal be subject to a full Environmental Impact Assessment. Given that caribou, fish and marine mammals are cross boundary species we recommend a review by a Federal Environmental Assessment Panel as required under Article 12, Part 6 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. Furthermore, we request that CARC be registered as full participant in this process.