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Sachigo forced to wait and see on Lingman Lake cleanup

Thursday November 29, 2012
The abandoned mine exploration site at Lingman Lake still contains old barrels, exploration equipment, and the threat that the soil and water near the site is contaminated with fuel and other chemicals. Although left over fuel at the site was burned off earlier this year by the Ontario government, Sachigo Lake First Nation wants the remainder of the site cleaned up. The issue is muddled because the site is owned by Cool Minerals.

Submitted photos by Allyne Gliddon
The abandoned mine exploration site at Lingman Lake still contains old barrels, exploration equipment, and the threat that the soil and water near the site is contaminated with fuel and other chemicals. Although left over fuel at the site was burned off earlier this year by the Ontario government, Sachigo Lake First Nation wants the remainder of the site cleaned up. The issue is muddled because the site is owned by Cool Minerals.

Submitted photos by Allyne Gliddon
The abandoned mine exploration site at Lingman Lake still contains old barrels, exploration equipment, and the threat that the soil and water near the site is contaminated with fuel and other chemicals. Although left over fuel at the site was burned off earlier this year by the Ontario government, Sachigo Lake First Nation wants the remainder of the site cleaned up. The issue is muddled because the site is owned by Cool Minerals.

Submitted photos by Allyne Gliddon
The abandoned mine exploration site at Lingman Lake still contains old barrels, exploration equipment, and the threat that the soil and water near the site is contaminated with fuel and other chemicals. Although left over fuel at the site was burned off earlier this year by the Ontario government, Sachigo Lake First Nation wants the remainder of the site cleaned up. The issue is muddled because the site is owned by Cool Minerals.

Submitted photos by Allyne Gliddon

Old equipment and barrels of waste from mining exploration at Lingman Lake, near Sachigo Lake First Nation, has been sitting on the site since the 1980s when the company that held the lease pulled out of the region.

Site surveys have shown that fuel drums leaked over the years, but there has never been a full environmental assessment of the area to determine what lasting environmental legacy of the mining work remains.

For over two decades the people of Sachigo Lake have been calling for the site to be remediated.

And while some of their immediate concerns were alleviated earlier this year when the provincial government burned off nearly a million litres of old fuel, an open mine shaft, a range of hazards and an unknown amount of contaminants still litter Lingman Lake.

The people of Sachigo Lake First Nation remain frustrated with the mess, and the potential health and safety risks it poses.

“(The government) has taken away the immediate danger in terms of the risk of fire we had to face each summer, but there is still the issue of environmental contamination, from the fuel that leaked into the land, water and river,” said Sachigo Lake Chief Titus Tait. “That’s what concerns the community, and that’s what we’re trying to get the government to address.”

The cleanup of Lingman Lake is complicated by the fact that leases for the site were transferred to Cool Minerals over a decade ago. Cool Minerals was not the company that did the original exploration work, but as the lease-holder it is responsible for submitting a closure plan to the provincial government.

Ontario has issued two orders to Cool Minerals for that closure plan, both of which have been ignored by the company. The most recent court order for a closure plan had a deadline of Oct. 10, 2012, but Cool Minerals once again ignored the request.

The fuel incineration work at the site, which took place in May 2012 and saw 850,000 litres of fuel burned off, required Ontario to use emergency measures in order to get around Cool Mineral’s ownership.

According to a spokesperson at Ontario’s Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM), following the fuel incineration the government now considers the most pressing threats related to the site resolved.

“The emergency measures taken by MNDM’s emergency fuel incineration project have eliminated or greatly reduced the environmental impact risks of the mine site,” said Julie Bennett of MNDM. “That means the site now does not require emergency measures.”

Bennett added that MNDM is “in the process of considering the next steps in response to the latest non-compliance by Cool Minerals.”

Meanwhile in Sachigo Lake, the community is frustrated that they are the ones exposed to long-term risks from a mine they never wanted in the first place.

As Tait explained, the community still lives off the land, and many people, including youth, hunt and fish in the area around Lingman Lake.

“We feed on the animals that drink the water,” Tait said. “That’s what concerns the community.”

Sachigo Lake is also starting its land use planning in conjunction with the Ministry of Natural Resources, a land use plan that will include the area around Lingman Lake.

The chief acknowledged that the fuel incineration was a big relief, as the community had spent every summer over the past two decades wondering and worrying over the possibility that a forest fire would set the fuel ablaze. But now Tait worries that the government will ignore the remaining problems at the site, once again leaving the community on its own to clean up a mess it did not create.

Bennett, however, noted that despite the ministry’s work burning off the fuel, Cool Minerals remains responsible for cleaning up the site.

There are over 5,700 known abandoned mine sites in Ontario, she said, of which approximately 30 to 40 percent are on Crown land and the responsibility of the government.

The government operates an Abandoned Mines Rehabilitation Program (AMRP) to clean up old mine sites that have reverted to the Crown, whether by dissolution of the corporation that owned the lease or by non-payment of taxes, but sites that are still owned by a private company, such as Lingman Lake, are not eligible for the program.

Besides, as Bennett explained, even within the AMRP mine sites have to be prioritized according to potential environmental and/or human health and safety risks.

From the government’s perspective, the emergency measures required at Lingman Lake have been completed.

Meaning, as Tait said, Sachigo Lake First Nation is left in a familiar spot when it comes to Lingman Lake.

“It’s a wait and see thing,” Tait said. “It’s been wait and see for over 20 years.”


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