KEARNEY – Permitting issues are pushing back a September start date for the Kearney graphite mine.
“We’re still waiting on some permits for the permit to take water and air quality discharge permit and water discharge permit,” said Ontario Graphite Limited CFO Tom Myatt. “They are in review by the Ministry of Environment. That’s holding things up a bit. We expect to get these permits shortly but we’re not there yet.”
Myatt says they are working with Ministry of Environment to get those completed but says the process is taking longer than expected.
“We’re doing our best to slow that down until our chief is properly consulted and they get answers to the legitimate questions that they’ve been asking,” said Anthony Laforge, director of land and resources for the Magnetawan First Nation. “It was shut down years ago and it left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth.”
Myatt says consultations are being done through the Ministry of Environment.
“I know that they have been in consultation with the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines,” he said. “To the extent that we understand what those are, we’re trying to deal with those.”
Myatt says he has not received any direct comment from the Magnetawan First Nation regarding their concerns.
Laforge says the mine was abandoned when the graphite movement fell out and they didn’t provide mitigate measures and rehabilitation and the river was affected.
The graphite mine in the Town of Kearney is now under the operation of Ontario Graphite Limited, a different entity then what operated the mine when it closed 17 years ago. He says the smelt population disappeared and the walleye population practically diminished.
“We basically had to rehabilitate the walleye population here,” he said. “We don’t work for the MNR. We’re not biologists. We’re just stewards of our land here.”
Myatt says they are dealing with legacy issues at the site.
“What we are proposing with the development solves a lot of those legacy problems,” he said. “In my view the actual development of the mine will improve the controls out at the site.”
Myatt says there was a period of time when the previous mine operators were not lining and controlling the water discharge as they are doing now.
“I don’t know all the water quality discharges that happened over the last 17 years,” he said. “There is a lot of information of what is going on over the last few years that we have been making sure all of the water in the polishing pond has been lined so that discharge is within standards.”
Myatt says he understands there were times before when the cutoff trench between the plant and Graphite Lake allowed some runoff from the plant area into the lake.
“Both of those things we are trying to resolve and it’s really kind of frustrating to us because improving the cutoff trench and improving the polishing pond performance are two things we’d like to do but are in our permit applications, which are being held up and we’d like to get those done,” he said.
Myatt says they would like to get those improvements done.
“There are some legacy issues out there that in the past were not operated right before our ownership,” said Myatt.
“We’re just looking to be fair. We’re at the end of this river and we’re at the end of a long history of 17 years ago when the graphite mine was abandoned,” said Laforge. “The ministry wasn’t here to clean things up. They fined them. But what happened to the river?”
Myatt says Ontario Graphite Limited has already put in an initial payment in financial assurance and will put in more payments later this year.
“We are building up that fund to make sure things are managed right when we shut down,” he said. “The closure is a little under $5 million.”
Myatt says they are prepared to put that into a financial assurance and have worked out a four-year payment schedule with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.
“Before they had no financial assurance,” he said. “We’re trying to get it built up to where it ought to be.”
Myatt explains that the financial assurance is to ensure that if a company refuses to do the closure the ministries can take those funds and ensure the closure is executed.
“In the past, the company that owned the property before us refused to do it or didn’t have the funds to do it,” he said. “There wasn’t a financial assurance out there that would allow the province to go in there and make things right.”
However regardless of assurances, Laforge says they would like to meet with graphite mine representatives to have their concerns addressed.
“We’re just trying to get the Kearney graphite people back to the table with these chiefs and start back with a fair and appropriate duty to consult and sit down and answer these concerns,” he said.
Laforge says they have support from Shawanaga, Henvey Inlet at French River, Dokis, and Wakausing First Nations.
“We call ourselves the Highway 69 corridor First Nations that are just trying to deal with the graphite movement, the graphite mine, reactivation and making sure that our councils and band members are well informed,” he said. “If anything goes wrong again its at the headwaters of the Magnetawan River and several other rivers right at the Algonquin dome.”
He says the mine can say they are consulting with Aboriginal People’s of Canada but they aren’t necessarily First Nation, the people at the end of the river.
Myatt says operations will likely be delayed until December.