In 2010, the Council of Canadians joined with the Sandy Pond Alliance for the Protection of Canadian Waters to launch a Federal Court challenge against the federal Schedule 2 provision that allows mining companies to dump their tailings waste into freshwater lakes. The challenge was intended to save both Sandy Pond in Newfoundland and other lakes threatened by Schedule 2 across the country, including Fish Lake in British Columbia. There are now 14 water bodies classified as Tailings Impoundment Areas across the country, and at least another 12 water bodies that have been proposed for reclassification.
The Brazilian mining corporation Vale and the Mining Association of Canada made efforts to delay the Federal Court hearing so much so that the case was only heard this past week by Justice Elizabeth Heneghan.
This morning, The Telegram reports that Vale removed about 1400 fish, mostly trout, from Sandy Pond in July-September 2011 and June 2012. “Then the company claimed their former home as a containment area for tailings from its new hydromet nickel processing plant. …Vale has added three dams at the Sandy Pond site – increasing the capacity of the containment area. …Liners have been installed. …The site formerly known as Sandy Pond will start being filled with hydromet tailings when the processing facility begins production, scheduled for later this year.”
Beyond the loss of water with destruction of Sandy Pond, the newspaper also notes that the Vale processing plant will take about 4.4 million cubic metres of water a year from Rattling Brook Big Pond.
While it now appears that the ruling from Justice Heneghan will not save Sandy Pond (though it might be possible to remediate the lake if toxic tailings were not dumped onto what is now left of it), we remain hopeful that her ruling will find the federal Schedule 2 approval of this destruction ultra vires or illegal in relation to the Fisheries Act, and that it could serve as an important precedent to protect the other freshwater lakes facing this same fate across the country.
We find it unacceptable, as reported earlier this week by The Telegram, that the federal government, Vale and Mining Association of Canada lawyers argue that “the Sandy Pond Alliance members incorrectly believe environmental protection, habitat protection, is the overarching purpose of the Fisheries Act.”
Photo: Sandy Pond then and now. The current photo of ‘the site formerly known as Sandy Pond’ appears in today’s The Telegram with the note ‘submitted photo courtesy of Vale’.