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NEWS: Vale targets pristine lake for tailings

The country’s largest circulation newspaper the Toronto Star – with 460,709 readers – reports on its front-page today on our fight against the destruction of Sandy Pond:

A coalition of environmental groups is fighting to set a national precedent by stopping Brazilian mining giant Vale from dumping 400,000 tonnes a year of toxic tailings into a Newfoundland lake known for its prize-winning trout.

‘Sandy Pond is a wonderful, beautiful lake and all aquatic life is going to be annihilated,’ said Meera Karunananthan, national water campaigner for the Council of Canadians and a member of the newly-created Sandy Pond Alliance. ‘The authorities are allowing the company to use our pristine water as one big garbage dump.’

The environmental alliance recently filed a legal challenge in federal court to what they see as a loophole in the Fisheries Act. It allows Canadian lakes to be reclassified as ‘tailings impoundment areas.’

Yesterday, Vale appealed to the federal court in St. John’s to allow the company intervener status in the challenge. A ruling is expected later this month.

Newfoundland activist Ken Kavanagh, a retired teacher who attended yesterday’s court proceedings in St. John’s, said all Canadians should be concerned about the potential loss of their natural water resources. ‘It’s symbolic,’ he told the Star. ‘You might say it’s just Sandy Pond in Newfoundland and Labrador today, but there are many lakes on lists (to allow dumping) in future. It could go on forever . . . what’s to protect any body of water in Canada?’ Added Kavanagh: ‘The premier (Danny Williams) says no more giveaways for Newfoundland and Labrador, and here they are giving a lake free to a mining company to destroy.’

Among regulations Vale has met, according to (Cory) McPhee (Vale’s vice-president of corporate affairs), is one that says there must be ‘no net loss’ to Newfoundland’s environmental habitat. ‘There is no way to compensate for the destruction of a natural fish habitat,’ countered Karunananthan. She added that the coalition wouldn’t have opposed the project had Vale included a strategy to contain its waste without destroying the natural habitat: ‘We’re not just against mining.’

Kavanagh said the Sandy Pond Alliance sent out a recent newsletter to ‘make it clear we’re not against economic development or against jobs. We’re against one aspect of the development that will destroy the lake.’ He argues the company chose to dump waste in Sandy Pond over such options as an artificial, lined containment pond, because it’s cheaper.

According to Karunananthan, ‘the mentality of the federal government is that we have so much water in Canada that we can give it up as a subsidy to mining companies. But it is the height of privatization to allow a public freshwater resource to be used as a private dump.’ She said environmentalists fear nickel tailings will leech into the groundwater at the contested Newfoundland site (and elsewhere), leaving behind contamination ‘for local communities to deal with, long after the large company is gone.’

A win by the Sandy Pond citizens’ coalition would set a legal precedent to stop a practice that’s been used by six companies, including Vale, since a former Liberal government changed the Fisheries Act in 2002. It’s estimated at least 11 more lakes are on the list for reclassification as dump sites.

The full article is at–vale-targets-pristine-lake-for-tailings.