Metal and Diamond Mining Effluent Regulations schedule 2 proposed amendments: response to comments on Sisson project
The responses below have been developed in collaboration with the Sisson Partnership and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
- Conservation Council of New Brunswick
- Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment
- Department of Fisheries and Oceans
- Environmental Assessment conducted by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (2016)
- Environmental Impact Assessment conducted by the province of New Brunswick
- Environmental Non-Governmental Organization
- Fish Habitat Compensation Plan
- Metal and Diamond Mining Effluent Regulations
- Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn
- Sisson Partnership
- tailings impoundment area
- tailings storage facility
- Wolastoqey Nations of New Brunswick
Assessment of alternatives
Comment 1: WNNB indicated that the economic unfeasibility of temporary storage was not justified by the Proponent and that the Proponent should provide detailed economic analysis to support this determination.
Response 1: The Proponent estimates that it would take 10 years to backfill the open pit with waste rock and that, due to waste rock density, one quarter of the waste rock would not fit in the open pit and would have to be managed in the proposed TSF. Other than the backfilling time, temporary storage of waste rock will come with additional challenges like:
- increased overall project footprint
- increased loss of terrestrial habitat
- likely increased permanent loss of fish habitat
- increase of water surplus due to increased footprint
- need for an additional water treatment plant to manage potentially acidic runoff for 20+ years
- need for a substantially larger reclamation bond to backfill 209 Mt of waste rock 20+ years in the future
- separate costs to backfill waste rock to the pit 20+ years in the future (given that the reclamation bond cannot be used by the mine if they are still operating)
- regulatory, First Nation, and stakeholder acceptance of creating a multi-decade potentially acid-generating waste rock facility
According to the Proponent, the costs for this scenario (including the increases to reclamation bonding, among other permit related financial commitments such as larger fish habitat offsetting requirements) would likely be so prohibitively expensive that it functioned as a fatal flaw to the overall Project, and was therefore screened out prior to the Multiple Account Analysis.
Comment 2: In two separate submissions, WNNB requested that the Proponent provide a comprehensive assessment of several mine waste management decisions, including: use of waste rock in embankments; flooding of the quarry; considering managing Ammonium Paratungstate (APT) off-site; alternative to a unique discharge point and treatment after open-pit; and, alternatives to active water treatment at the final discharge point.
Response 2: The overall objective of the alternatives assessment process is to minimize the environmental footprint of the disposal area. After review of the assessment of alternatives report, ECCC concluded that the analysis is consistent with ECCC’s Guidelines for the Assessment of Alternatives for Mine Waste Disposal.
On May 31, 2018 and October 25, 2018, the Proponent provided a detailed response to WNNB regarding these management decisions. The response is provided below.
The five management decisions discussed in this comment include:
- use of quarried NPAG (non-potentially acid generating) rock to construct the embankments
- connecting the quarry to the TSF at mine closure
- storing solid waste products from the APT plant in lined cells within the TSF
- connecting the TSF to the open pit with a spillway channel to allow excess rain water and snowmelt
- accumulated in the TSF to drain to the pit after mine closure
- actively treating water in the pit lake to meet discharge requirements as long as is necessary
Each decision listed above was not considered a key differentiator, as each was applicable regardless of the tailings alternative selected and/or was a logical optimization for the proposed project. As such, the decisions do not allow for differentiation between alternatives that would assist in the MAA process.
The decision to use quarried rock to construct the TSF embankments resulted because the mine waste rock was conservatively characterized as PAG (potentially acid generating) at the time of the EIA submission in 2013 making it unsuitable as an embankment construction material from a geochemical perspective. If the material was deemed NPAG, it may have been possible to use this waste rock as embankment construction material, which would be beneficial as it would reduce the overall project footprint, reduce the final size of the TSF due to less waste rock storage within the facility, and lower overall costs. However, since the use of waste rock was not an option at that time, quarried rock was identified as the next best option, which would apply equally to all alternatives.
A large portion of the initial phases of the rock quarry will be naturally flooded by the TSF. The final excavation of the quarry would not be connected to the TSF. Given that the initial phases would be connected, the logical closure concept for the quarry was to connect the entire footprint to the TSF. A rock quarry for other TSF alternatives would likely be designed in a similar manner, but this particular decision is not considered a key driver in selecting a TSF alternative.
A description of the APT products is included in Appendix A of the Assessment of Tailings Management Alternatives report. The decision to place the material in cells as opposed to mixing with the tailings mass without separation was based on the chemical characteristics of the material. If not handled separately, it could have an adverse effect on the water quality in the overall TSF that would reduce concentrator efficiency (i.e. calcium ions would adversely affect tungsten flotation recoveries) and seepage water quality (notably, sodium and sulphate). Placing the APT products in isolated cells was therefore necessary as part of the design of the project to allow the concentrator to function in an optimal manner and as a mitigation for environmental impacts. The APT product would need special management in cells regardless of the alternative selected. The decision to connect the TSF to the open pit upon closure through the excavation of a permanent spillway channel was made to allow passive discharge from the TSF to the open pit in the long-term, such that there will only be one source of water for treatment in closure and post-closure (i.e. from the open pit). When considering closure for a mine, passive systems are preferred to minimize reliance on mechanical and electrical systems as much as possible.
Based on information available at the time of submission, treating water from the open pit in the closure and post closure phases is expected, which is driven by the geochemical characteristics of the pit walls and the backfilled waste rock, as well as water quality from all other sources that are directed to the open pit. Regardless of the alternative selected, the open pit water is expected to need treatment, and is therefore not a differentiator in the process.
Comment 3: The Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB) noted that the alternative assessment report must objectively and rigorously assess all feasible options for mine waste disposal. The project proponent must demonstrate through the EA and the assessment that the proposed use of the water body as a TIA is the most appropriate option for mine waste disposal from environmental, technical and socio-economic perspectives.
Response 3: After a review of the assessment of alternatives report, ECCC concluded that the analysis is consistent with ECCC’s Guidelines for the Assessment of Alternatives for Mine Waste Disposal.
Fish and fish habitat
Comment 4: The Atlantic Salmon Federation feels that serious issues related to the health of the Nashwaak watershed and its native species like wild Atlantic salmon have not been addressed by the Proponent.
Response 4: As presented by the Proponent in Chapter 8.4 of the EIA report and summarized in table 8.4.15 of the Summary of Residual Project-Related Environmental Effects on water resources, the Proponent demonstrated that the environmental effects of the Project on water resources will not be significant because:
- the environmental effects of watercourse alterations on surface water hydrology will be mitigated and authorized under provincial and federal regulation
- virtually all of the water requirements for the Project will be met by the reuse of water collected on-site, and recycled through the Tailing Storage Facility (TSF)
- the collection of mine contact and process water in the TSF during operation, and in the pit lake during closure, will not adversely affect downstream surface water use or groundwater use
- discharge of surplus water from the Project will be treated (as necessary) to acceptable discharge standards prior to release
- the design and management of the TSF will ensure that seepage through the TSF embankments will not affect downstream groundwater and surface water quality to an extent that it causes an exceedance of Health Canada’s “Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality” (GCDWQ; Health Canada 2012a) that would adversely affect human health
Comment 5: The Atlantic Salmon Federation had indicated that the MDMER has failed to protect Atlantic salmon.
Response 5: The MDMER reduces the risks of negative effects of mines on fish and fish habitat by setting limits on effluent at final discharge points. Specifically, the Regulations prohibit the discharge of acutely lethal effluent and set limits for pH of effluent and concentrations of arsenic, copper, cyanide, lead, nickel, zinc, radium 226 and total suspended solids. Water discharged from the Project will have to be treated, as needed, to meet conditions in the Regulations as well as conditions established by the Province of New Brunswick. Any contravention to the MDMER or the Fisheries Act can be subject to enforcement action.
Comment 6: The Atlantic Salmon Federation is of the view that there are impacts to fish habitat that are being overlooked. Specifically, the flow of Sisson brook will decrease by 50% in the first 7 years of operations and will increase to 350% or more afterwards. This would impact high quality spawning, rearing and refuge habitat.
Response 6: Variation of the river flow due to the project has been considered in the offsetting plan prepared by the Proponent; please consult section 3.1.2 Indirect environmental effects of the offsetting plan for more information. Indirect loss will be compensated under subsection 35(2) of the Fisheries Act; therefore, they are not within the scope of the MDMER amendments. These amendments are in relation to direct loss of fish habitat due to the deposit of mine waste. The FHCP prepared by the Proponent will offset direct loss of fish habitat resulting from mine waste disposal as well as direct and indirect losses permitted under subsection 35(2) of the Fisheries Act.
Comment 7: The CCNB indicated that principle 2 of the Fisheries Productivity Investment Policy is not respected in the proposed compensation plan and that it does not align with DFO’s preferred offsetting strategy, which states that “offsets are most likely to balance losses when they benefit the specific fish populations and areas that are affected by a development project”. CCNB also indicated that the Nashwaak Lake does not provide the same quality of habitat for Atlantic salmon and American eel as the fish bearing habitat that will be destroyed by the Project and that the Proponent did not provide adequate justification for its choice.
Response 7: Given that the impacts of the Sisson Mine project on fish habitat occur in the headwaters of the Nashwaak River Watershed and mostly affect trout rearing habitat, DFO requested that the Proponent demonstrate how the proposed FHCP will offset the loss of productivity using equivalency metrics. In DFO’s Fisheries Productivity Investment Policy (DFO 2013a), there are two different approaches that can be taken for offsetting measures: in-kind approaches and out-of-kind approaches. Both approaches attempt to generate equivalency metrics to balance fisheries productivity offsetting gains with project losses (Bradford et al. 2016Footnote 1 ; DFO 2017Footnote 2 ).
Section 5.2.2 of the revised FHCP presents a consideration for both in-kind and out-of-kind approaches and details how the proposed offsetting measures balance and exceed the Project impacts (i.e.Principle 2 of the Fisheries Productivity Investment Policy).
Comment 8: The CCNB and the WNNB indicated that the [federal] government and the Proponent did not consider fish species other than Alewife in their compensation plan, and their assertion that Alewife will benefit the productivity of all species in the Nashwaak River is not supported with any further evidence.
Response 8 The revised FHCP can be downloaded from the Proponent’s website. The suitability of the proposed offsetting plan and how it aligns with the four principles of DFO’s Fisheries Productivity Investment Policy is discussed in Section 5.2.1 of the revised FHCP.
The reintroduction of alewife into the Upper Nashwaak Lake is expected to facilitate an annual influx of marine-derived nutrients into the Nashwaak River watershed ecosystem. Such an influx is expected to positively affect nutrient cycling with reverberations throughout the freshwater food web (Best et al. 2018Footnote 3 ; Samways et al. 2018Footnote 4 ; Samways et al. 2015Footnote 5 ; Walters et al. 2009Footnote 6 ; Kircheis et al. 2002Footnote 7 ). Further, early life stages of alewife provide a substantial food source for other fish species in the ecosystem, such as brook trout (Bolster 2008Footnote 8 ). Increased freshwater production of alewife also translates into more forage fish in the coastal marine environment. Therefore, the removal of the Upper Nashwaak Lake water control structure and Lower Nashwaak Lake Dam are anticipated to eventually enhance fisheries productivity in a large portion of the Nashwaak River watershed ecosystem, the Saint John River ecosystem, and the local marine coastal ecosystem within the Bay of Fundy.
Comment 9: The Nashwaak Watershed Association (NWAI) questioned the Proponent’s study on the presence of Alewife in the upper Nashwaak; the Proponent’s fish passage analysis provided to DFO; and, its “conservation-focused reintroduction plan” and its plan for the removal of Lower Lake Dam. Furthermore, the NWAI indicated that such plan have not yet been made available to the public for comment.
Response 9: See response provided for comment number 8.
Comment 10: A citizen inquired about the evidence that the amended compensation plan would effectively offset the impacts.
Response 10: Section 5 of the revised FHCP provides details on implementation measures to offset serious harm to fish due to the Project in the Nashwaak River watershed.
During its review of the proposed FHCP, DFO requested the Proponent to undertake a survey of the existing Nashwaak Lake water control structure showing the profile elevations of the current watercourse and demonstrate how this represents a barrier to fish passage for some migrating species (i.e. a fish passage analysis). Stantec, on behalf of the Proponent, undertook a fish passage analysis of the Upper Nashwaak Lake water control structure in 2018 to determine the potential utility of its replacement as a fisheries offsetting measure. The results of the fish passage analysis suggest that the structure represents a complete passage barrier for some life stages of some fish species during their main migration periods, and acts as a partial migration barrier to other fish species. Specifically, modelling results suggest the structure is a complete migration barrier to Alewife, resident and sea run brook trout and juvenile Atlantic salmon.
Stantec undertook a fish passage analysis of the Lower Nashwaak Lake dam in 2013. The results of this effort suggest that the structure does indeed impede the upstream movement of several fish species during sensitive spawning migration periods (Table 5.1). According to the Proponent, a seasonal barrier to fish, such as Lower Nashwaak Lake Dam, can severely influence the productivity of migrating species because the barrier may delay activities such as spawning and exhaust individuals as they attempt to pass upstream of the structure.
The removal of the two fish barriers would provide permanent fish passage into all of the Nashwaak watershed and increase fish habitat and fish productivity in the area compared to existing conditions. According to the FHCP, the largest benefit anticipated is due to the additional habitat that will be available for Alewife spawning and rearing of early life stages of juveniles. Brook trout will also likely use the habitat within Nashwaak Lake for spawning and rearing, or as thermal refuge during summer months. The Proponent will be required to implement a follow-up plan to assess the effectiveness of the FHCP and to ensure that permanent loss of fish habitat is adequately compensated.
In section 6 of its revised FHCP, the Proponent indicated that the Project will result in the loss of 54,400 m2 of fish habitat and an approximate loss of approximately 300 kg of fish production. It has estimated that the offsetting plan could result in 311,716 kg of fish production from juvenile alewife alone. Such an influx is expected to positively affect nutrient cycling with reverberations throughout the freshwater food web that has the potential to increase the productivity of other fish species in the Nashwaak river watershed.
Comment 11: The NWAI requested more details on the lack of measures in the proposed FHCP to minimize the probable impact of the mine on downstream aquatic habitat. Even in the absence of a catastrophic failure of the Tailings Storage Facility, it is almost guaranteed that water quality downstream of a mine will degrade. The organization reiterated that the Proponent did not provide any evidence of the existence of a mine anywhere where water quality has not degraded. NWAI reiterated the point made by the New Brunswick Salmon Council that the Proponent has provided no evidence of any mine anywhere where water quality has not suffered in similar circumstances.
Response 11: Schedule 4 of the MDMER prescribes the maximum authorized limits for deleterious substances in metal and diamond mine effluent (e.g. arsenic, copper, cyanide, lead, nickel, zinc, radium-226 and total suspended solids). The MDMER also specify the allowable acidity or alkalinity (pH range) of mine effluent and require that mine effluent not be acutely lethal to fish. The MDMER further require that mine owners or operators sample and monitor effluents to ensure compliance with the authorized limits and to determine any impact on fish, fish habitat and fishery resources. The Department of the Environment publishes annual performance summaries for metal mines with respect to selected standards prescribed by the MDMER.
Mining companies are required to submit weekly samples of effluent from mine sites to accredited third-party laboratories for testing and to immediately notify the Department when monitoring results show that harmful substances exceed the allowed limits, or when a non-authorized release occurs, such as an effluent spill.
During the Environmental Assessment, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency received expert advice indicating that potential effects on water quality as a result of acid rock drainage and metal leaching and proposed mitigation had been adequately assessed and considered. As part of the conditions of EIA approval, the Province of New Brunswick would require the proponent to submit revised water quality modelling results in support of detailed Project design, prior to applying for approvals to construct and operate. The Proponent would be required to develop a Water Monitoring and Management Plan that would include sampling locations, parameters, sampling frequencies and the design of seepage interception wells prior to construction. Taking into account the implementation of applicable mitigation measures, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency was of the view that the Project is not likely to result in significant adverse environmental effects on water resources.
Comment 12: A citizen asked whether the water quality monitoring will be done by an independent third party, or by the mining company itself.
Response 12: The MDMER requires owners or operators of a mine to submit weekly samples of effluent from mine sites to accredited third-party laboratories for testing.
Fish and fish habitat: revised plan
Comment 13: The Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Incorporated (MTI) indicated that the conclusion provided by the Proponent on electrofishing is flawed as electrofishing is not an ideal method for sampling juveniles.
The MTI also indicated that sampling of the fish community occurred during a relatively discrete period of time for one year only (July 20 - Sep 29, 2011), which would only overlap with the earliest spawning of the salmon spawning season that typically runs from October to November. MTI added that it is therefore impossible to conclusively determine that critical spawning habitat is not being lost and that this shortcoming limits the value of the baseline studies and their relevance for the FHCP.
Response 13: The current population status of Atlantic salmon on the Nashwaak River and Saint John River watershed makes multi-gear/multi-season surveys ineffective as a result of low numbers of adult salmon returning each year (i.e., 57 to 399 adults per year at the Nashwaak Counting Fence (2015 – 2018, DFO)). This decreasing trend in salmon populations is not unique to the Saint John River and has been observed throughout much of Atlantic Canada as a result of many factors including at sea-survival (DFOFootnote 9 ; COSEWIC 2010)Footnote 10 .
Juvenile Atlantic salmon surveys using backpack electrofishing are widely used to assess salmon populations across Atlantic Canada by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Studies have shown that juvenile salmon densities are related to the abundance and locations of redd (Beland 1996Footnote 11 ; Gustafson-Greenwood and Moring 1990Footnote 12 ; Teichert et al. 2011Footnote 13 ), and therefore provide a good method in the absence of adequate adult salmon numbers to provide an indication of salmon spawning habitat. Adult salmon counts in the years prior to the EA (2008 to 2010; average of 674 per year) were over two times higher than in the years following the EA (2011 to 2017; average of 268 per year), and juvenile salmon numbers and distribution are reflective of adult salmon spawning locations. As such, the Proponent has indicated that it is confident that the data provided in the EA is sufficient given that adult populations were higher when surveys were conducted and habitat is not limited within the Nashwaak River watershed.
Comment 14: The MTI indicated that the Proponent has planned to carry out fish salvage and construction of barriers (i.e., cofferdams) for portions of Sisson Brook, Bird Brook, and unnamed Tributary A (of West Branch Napadogan Brook) from June through September, and that where this is not possible, to carry out these activities during the winter low flow period. This is problematic to MTI as brook trout and Atlantic salmon eggs from fall spawning would be incubating through this period and would not be salvaged. Thus, all the spawning efforts from these spawners and the entire year class from the overprinted sections would be lost.
Response 14: The Proponent indicated that it will comply with all conditions in the Wetland and Watercourse Alternation Permit issued by the Department of Environment and Local Government pursuant to the Wetland and Watercourse Alternation Regulations (NB #90-80- Clean Water Act) for any activities/alterations to be conducted in or within 30 meters of any regulated water course. As outlined in condition #22 of the provincial EIA, the Proponent will develop a fish rescue and relocation strategy for review and approval by appropriate government agencies prior to construction.
Comment 15: The MTI indicated that the Proponent has not provided the detailed design or schedule for activities associated with removing the Lower Nashwaak Lake Dam and that the Proponent committed to providing this information to DFO in advance of the start of construction activities for the Project.
Response 15: The Proponent will comply with all conditions in the Wetland and Watercourse Alternation Permit issued by the Department of Environment and Local Government pursuant to the Wetland and Watercourse Alternation Regulations (NB #90-80- Clean Water Act) for any activities/alterations to be conducted in or within 30 meters of any regulated water course. This includes submitting detailed plan and schedules for activities associated with removing the Lower Nashwaak Lake Dam.
Comment 16: MTI disagrees with the assessment by the Proponent regarding the total in-kind compensation being provided by the FHCP. The habitat type lost (lotic) and species most impacted (brook trout) due to the Project are not the same as that being offset (lentic and alewife respectively); with the exception of the small tributaries to Nashwaak Lake, all habitat upstream of the water-level control dam and road culvert is lacustrine. Likewise, the Proponent has not completed fish inventory surveys to establish the species present in Upper Nashwaak Lake and thus, cannot conclusively determine that the species occupying that habitat are the same as those in the Project area. As the habitat type and species being targeted for offsetting are not the same as those impacted by the Project, they cannot be claimed as “in- kind” compensation.
Response 16: Given that the impacts of the Sisson Mine project on fish habitat occur in the headwaters of the Nashwaak River Watershed and mostly affect trout rearing habitat, DFO formally requested that the Proponent demonstrate how the proposed FHCP will offset the loss of productivity using equivalency metrics. In DFO’s Fisheries Productivity Investment Policy (DFO 2013a), there are two different approaches that can be taken for offsetting measures: in-kind approaches and out-of-kind approaches. Both approaches attempt to generate equivalency metrics to balance fisheries productivity offsetting gains with project losses (Bradford et al.Footnote 14 2016; DFO 2017Footnote 15 ).
In Section 5.2.2 of the revised FHCP, the proponent explains why the out-of-kind approach was considered to be the most appropriate and why the riverine habitat (e.g., mostly brook trout) within the area of direct and indirect loss is proposed to be offset with primarily lake habitat (i.e., for alewife) instead of riverine habitat.
Comment 17: MTI disagrees with the assessment by the Proponent regarding the total productivity (number of fish) for out-of-kind compensation being provided by the FHCP. To evaluate the relative changes in productivity, the Proponent compared the estimated number of fish lost to the estimated maximum number of fish that would be produced as a result of the FHCP. To calculate the estimated number of fish lost due to the Project, the Proponent multiplied fish density (estimated using relationships established during electrofishing for Environmental Assessment baseline surveys) by the total area being lost. This calculation produced an estimate of 3,192,610 fish. This was contrasted with the maximum carrying capacity of Upper Nashwaak Lake (239,867 adult alewife plus 103,905,221 outbound juveniles produced each year). The Proponent uses this estimate to support their assertion that the reintroduction of alewife would provide 32 times more productivity than what is lost (~104,145,085). The MTI further indicates that this is problematic for many reasons, particularly:
- The estimated carrying capacity of Upper Nashwaak Lake is based on an average size of 240 g for an average alewife adult and median estimates of 51.4 mt/km2 habitat productivity from Gibson et al. (2007) and that these estimates are not representative of the Upper Nashwaak Lake and do not account for the specific ecology of this system. Therefore, the MTI considers that applying these values is not appropriate.
- The total number of outbound alewife juveniles (103,905,221) accounts for more than 99.7% of the calculated productivity. Yet even if the assumption regarding the number of juveniles produced is accepted, the vast majority of these juveniles will not survive to reproduce. This is counter to the argument of the Proponent, which is that the nutrients from alewife of marine- origin will support productivity within the ecosystem; and
- Lastly, the estimates for productivity of habitat lost (e.g. Bird Brook, McBean Brook etc.) due to the project do not include production of juveniles. These values are based on number captured fish and not the total production of those captured fish. Thus, the comparisons between the habitat lost and the offset plan are of two different scenarios. For these comparisons to be valid, the Proponent would need to undertake a similar exercise for the overprinted habitat where total production of juveniles for all species present is estimated.
Response 17: To facilitate the comparison between the loss of fish production from the Sisson project and the gain in fish production from the offsetting plan. The revised FHCP uses the fish production metric.
The average weight of an adult alewife and the carrying capacity were based on literature values, as referenced in the report (respectively, Jessop 1999 and Gibson et al. 2007). As alewife are not currently present in Upper Nashwaak Lake, it is not possible to determine alewife production specifically for Upper Nashwaak Lake. The literature values include gaspereau (i.e., alewife) populations within New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada and therefore are considered to be representative of potential alewife production within Upper Nashwaak Lake.
It is acknowledged that not all of the outbound alewife juveniles will survive and return to reproduce as adults. The estimates of returning spawning adults is based on the literature and is in line with what has been observed on the St. Croix River in New Brunswick in recent years. The quantity of marine derived nutrients is dependent on the numbers of adult alewife that return to Upper Nashwaak Lake.
The estimates of lost fish production, which includes juveniles, is a commonly used method to calculate fish biomass (e.g., habitat area x number of fish per 100m2). The loss of fish production is assumed to be representative of existing fish production (i.e., on an annual basis) within these watercourses. The calculations and rationale for fish production estimates are described in Section 3.0 of the revised FHCP. Additionally, as outlined in Section 4.1.4 (Fish Relocation), fish residing in directly affected watercourses will be relocated as part of the project.
Comment 18: The Proponent proposes to monitor the functionof the replacement structures at the Upper Nashwaak Lake and the Lower Nashwaak Lake by inputting post-construction topographical data into a HEC-RAS model to verify conditions, which would allow the passage of alewife. Effectiveness monitoring will use photo or video to capture evidence of fish passage.
MTI requested that additional monitoring be undertaken to confirm the function of fish passage at the Upper Nashwaak Lake and the Lower Nashwaak Lake. The Proponent should undertake functional monitoring of the actual flow velocity at cross sections throughout the replaced structure (as was done by Stantec Footnote 16 to confirm accuracy of HEC-RAS simulations) during spring, summer and fall. These velocities can then be compared to the known fish swimming performance from Katopodis and Gervais (2016)Footnote 17 .
MTI requested that additional monitoring to confirm the effectiveness of fish passage at the Upper Nashwaak Lake and the Lower Nashwaak Lake. Also, the MTI expressed that the Proponent should collect alewife during spring migrations to provide irrefutable evidence of fish passage and that the fish collection method (e.g. fyke nets, hoop nets, gill nets, electrofishing etc.) may be chosen at the discretion of the Proponent. Fish collection surveys should begin during the 3rd year after commencement of the stocking program and continue yearly until fish passage is satisfactorily confirmed.
Response 18: As per sub-section 27.1(2) of the MDMER, the owner or operator of a mine shall submit a FHCP that includes the following information:
- a description of the measures to be taken during the planning and implementation of the compensation plan to mitigate any potential adverse effects on fish habitat that could result from the plan’s implementation;
- a description of the measures to be taken to monitor the plan’s implementation;
- a description of the measures to be taken to verify the extent to which the plan’s purpose has been achieved.
Moreover, the owner or operator of a mine shall ensure that the compensation plan approved by the Minister of the Environment is implemented and, if the compensation plan’s purpose is not being achieved, the owner or operator shall inform the Minister of the Environment. If the compensation plan’s purpose is not being achieved, the owner or operator of a mine shall, as soon as practicable in the circumstances, identify and implement all necessary remedial measures to ensure that the purpose is achieved.
The Proponent is responsible for implementing the FHCP and monitoring its effectiveness, as well as for reporting on implementation and the results of monitoring. DFO will monitor the implementation of the FHCP.
In the revised FHCP, the Proponent has proposed monitoring measures to assess the effectiveness of the proposed FHCP. Detailed information on the monitoring measures are presented in section 5.4 of the revised FHCP. In the development of the monitoring measures, the Proponent considered the guidance provided by DFO (2012bFootnote 18 ).
The success of alewife upstream passage will be monitored by providing direct evidence of adult alewife passing into Upper Nashwaak Lake 3-5 years following the initiation of the conservation-focused alewife reintroduction plan. Specifically, physical evidence documenting spawning adult alewife entering Upper Nashwaak Lake will be provided through photographic or video evidence. The Proponent has assumed that the presence of alewife entering Upper Nashwaak Lake will provide evidence of successful passage at the previous Lower Nashwaak Lake location because the latter is further downstream.
The Proponent is required to comply with all the conditions regarding monitoring provided in the Fisheries Act Authorization issued by DFO pursuant to the Fisheries Act. The Proponent will strive to engage First Nations and local stakeholder groups as appropriate to deliver several aspects of the offsetting monitoring plan.
Comment 19: MTI indicated that the monitoring of the FHCP is a key component to ensuring the effectiveness of offsetting activities and is directly linked to the rights and interests of MTI communities. It is requested that monitors from an MTI community be invited and trained to participate in all aspects of the FHCP.
Response 19: The Proponent has indicated that they are committed to working with First Nations on potential training and employment opportunities, including the follow-up and monitoring related activities associated with the FHCP. Many of the positions on the mine site will involve “on the job training” and the Proponent is committed to ensuring that First Nations are aware of employment opportunities through the Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDI), direct notification to the Band offices and First Nations Human Resources coordinators within each community.
Comment 20: The Proponent completed a hydrometric/hydraulic study that evaluated fish passage for the structure to be removed at Upper Nashwaak Lake (Stantec, 2018)Footnote 19 . However, no similar analysis was completed for the water level dam at the Lower Nashwaak Lake, making it impossible to conclusively determine that it represents a barrier to fish passage. This lack of information undermines the value of removing the structure as a compensation strategy for the FHCP.
Response 20: As referenced in section 5.1.2 of the Revised Information Requirements in Support of the Application for Fisheries Act Authorization, and Offsetting Plan, Stantec undertook a fish passage analysis of the Lower Lake Dam in 2013 (Stantec 2013)Footnote 20 . In this analysis, the hydraulic requirements for fish passage were simulated for the structure using a HEC-RAS Model and assessed using fish passage model FishXing for five fish species including Atlantic salmon, brook trout, alewife, blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis), and American shad (Alosa sapidissima). A summary of the Lower Nashwaak Lake Dam upstream fish passage analysis is presented in table 5.1 of the revised FHCP.
Federal Environmental Assessment
Comment 21: The Atlantic Salmon Federation indicated that an appropriate water treatment is necessary because the fluoride will exceed CCME threshold of 0.120mg/L and fluoride forms strong complexes with aluminum, resulting in high concentrations of this metal, which is toxic to Atlantic salmon and other aquatic organisms.
Response 21: As discussed in section 5.3 of the Comprehensive Study Report, detailed water quality discharge parameters would be developed by the Province of New Brunswick during the Project’s detailed design phase. The Province of New Brunswick indicated that its permitting process is adaptive in nature, and would impose monitoring and reporting requirements, including that the Proponent demonstrate that the Project discharges meet permitted criteria or further mitigation action would be required. Additionally, as part of the conditions of the provincial EIA approval, the Province of New Brunswick would review the final engineering design of all facilities, including wastewater treatment systems.
In the same section, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (Agency) explains that the related effects on water quality would result in more frequent (i.e. as compared to the current baseline) exceedances of the Canadian Water Quality Guidelines for the Protection of Aquatic Life (Freshwater) and Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality in nearby watercourses. The Province of New Brunswick advised that it would establish regulated water quality objectives for the Project that adhere to the process and criteria set out in the Canadian Water Quality Guidelines for the Protection of Aquatic Life (Freshwater). The Proponent would monitor water quality through all phases of the Project, and implement adaptive management measures as required. The Agency recognizes that the treatment of water prior to release would need to continue after closure and in perpetuity or until monitoring results indicate that pit water quality meets all applicable criteria thereby enabling discharge without treatment.
Taking into account the implementation of applicable mitigation, the Agency is of the view that the Project is not likely to result in significant adverse environmental effects on water resources.
The MDMER also reduce the risks of negative effects of mines on fish and fish habitat by setting limits on effluent at final discharge points. Specifically, the Regulations prohibit the discharge of acutely lethal effluent and set limits for pH of effluent and concentrations of arsenic, copper, cyanide, lead, nickel, zinc, radium 226 and total suspended solids. Mine effluent will have to be treated, as needed, to meet conditions in the Regulations as well as conditions established by the Province of New Brunswick. Any contravention to the MDMER or the Fisheries Act can be subject to enforcement action.
Comment 22: The Atlantic Salmon Federation considers that the Proponent underestimated water treatment cost and bonding provisions for ongoing treatment.
Response 22: As discussed in section 5.3 of the Comprehensive Study Report, detailed water quality discharge parameters would be developed by the Province of New Brunswick during the Project’s detailed design phase. The Province of New Brunswick indicated that its permitting process is adaptive in nature, and would impose monitoring and reporting requirements, including that the Proponent demonstrated that the Project discharges meet permitted criteria or further mitigation action would be required. Additionally, as part of the conditions of the provincial EIA approval, the Province of New Brunswick would review the final engineering design of all facilities, including wastewater treatment systems.
The provincial EIA conditions specify that in the event of design failure or malfunction during the construction, operation, closure or post-closure phases of the Project that causes environmental contamination, the Province of New Brunswick will require the Proponent to incur all remediation costs associated with any such event, including cleaning up any environmental impacts. Furthermore, condition 16 of the provincial EIA states that a Long Term Water Treatment Security is required prior to any tailings being deposited into the TSF. The amount of this Security shall be enough to cover the annual operating and maintenance cost of the Wastewater Treatment Plant as well as associated monitoring requirements in perpetuity.
Comment 23: Many citizens and ENGOs indicated that by allowing the use of waterbodies for the disposal of mine waste, ECCC is not delivering on its mandate to protect the environment.
Response 23: The Government is committed to protecting the environment while supporting economic development. The Project will be subject to the MDMER, which set strict limits on the quality of effluent that can be discharged by metal and diamond mines. Furthermore, the Proponent has assessed several options to dispose of mine waste and demonstrated that using these water bodies is the option that makes the most environmental, technical, economic and socio-economic sense. As a mitigation measure, the Proponent is required to implement a fish habitat compensation plan to offset the loss of fish habitat resulting from the disposal of mine waste.
Comment 24: The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) indicated that the Sisson Mine proposal has failed to meet the conditions required by the MDMER.
Response 24: The Proponent has submitted an alternatives assessment report that meets ECCC’s Guidelines on the assessment of alternatives for mine waste disposal. As required under section 27.1 of the MDMER, the Proponent has also developed a FHCP to offset for the loss of fish habitat resulting from the disposal of mine waste. DFO has assessed the compensation plan and determined that it meets the Department’s Fisheries Productivity Investment Policy. The MDMER also requires mine owners/operators to submit an irrevocable letter of credit to cover the cost of implementing the FHCP. ECCC will not authorize the deposit of mine waste into waters frequented by fish until all the conditions for mine waste disposal under the MDMER have been met.
Comment 25: The Atlantic Salmon Federation, NWAI and WNNB expressed concern that the Government of Canada has not played a neutral role in this process, choosing instead to rely upon the interpretation and claims of the Proponent. As a result, the MDMER process has failed in its most fundamental purpose: to ensure that water bodies frequented by fish are subject to the highest possible standards of protection.
Response 25: The Project will be subject to the MDMER, which set strict limits on the quality of effluent that can be discharged by metal and diamond mines. The Proponent has assessed several options to dispose of mine waste and demonstrated that using the water bodies is the option that makes the most environmental, technical, economic and socio-economic sense. ECCC has determined that this analysis is consistent with ECCC’s Guidelines for the assessment of alternatives for mine waste disposal. In order to comply with section 27.1 of the MDMER, the Proponent developed a FHCP to offset the loss of fish habitat resulting from the disposal of mine waste.
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