Province commits $137,000 to Shore Gold diamond mine consultations

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The provincial government’s decision to commit $137,000 to fund consultations with a Saskatchewan First Nation means Shore Gold Inc. is one step away from learning whether its proposed Star-Orion-South diamond mine east of Prince Albert can proceed as planned.

The talks between the Ministry of Environment and James Smith Cree Nation are expected to take about six months and concentrate on issues related to land access for traditional activities like hunting and fishing, according to a government spokesman.

“Once consultations with James Smith Cree Nation are deemed adequate, then the minister will evaluate all pertinent information before rendering a decision,” said Brady Pollock, applications manager in the ministry’s environmental assessment and stewardship division.

Pollock said the government decided to undertake the latest round of consultations after a public review process completed two years ago raised “issues that had not been addressed.” The talks are part of its legal duty to consult First Nations and Metis groups, he added.

Shore Gold has been trying for years to get approval for the mine. It submitted its environmental impact statement to provincial and federal regulators in 2010, and received feedback from both, as well as First Nations, between 2011 and 2014.

Former federal environment minister Leona Aglukkaq approved the statement in 2014, noting that Shore Gold’s mine “is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects when (proposed) mitigation measures … are taken into account.”

Pollock defended the government’s timeline. He said other projects in untouched northern areas have taken as long to approve, and that the Shore Gold project’s size and location in the Fort à la Corne forest made for “a lot of complexities.”

James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns said that while the community three kilometres from the mine site has concerns about access to land and environmental protection, he hopes a compromise can be found and the economic benefits of the mine will materialize.

“We’re not here to hurt Mother Earth,” Burns said.

Neither Kenneth MacNeill, Shore Gold’s president and CEO, nor George Read, its vice president of exploration and development, were available for interviews on Tuesday. In a statement, the company said it was “pleased” with the government’s latest update.

“(This) provides Shore and our shareholders with an approximate timeline for the completion of the … review process by the province,” Read said in the statement, noting that Shore Gold has not been asked for additional information and is waiting to complete the process.

Shore Gold began looking for diamonds in Saskatchewan in 1995. In 2011, it estimated the mine would cost $2.5 billion to build. Shore Gold said last year it was working to dramatically reduce its capital costs.

A group of dissident Shore Gold shareholders, concerned about communications, came close to ousting three of its directors at its annual meeting in June. The company’s chairman deemed the proxy vote illegal; MacNeill said the company provides as much information as possible.

amacpherson@postmedia.com
twitter.com/macphersona

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