Jeff Green | Jun 21, 2007
Feature Article - March 8, 2007
Back toHomeFeature Article - June 21, 2007
Exploration drives a wedge into North Frontenac community
by Jeff Green
A group of North Frontenac residents, along with members of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation Family Heads council, and local anti-mining activists, who are all concerned about the prospect of uranium exploration and mining in the township, were planning to have an organizational meeting this past Sunday at the Snow Road Hall.
The meeting turned into an open meeting when some other local residents arrived, people who consider the uranium project to be the most promising development in many years in terms of job creation and economic development.
From all accounts it was a heated meeting, with the people who support the exploration activity eventually walking out en masse.
The question of uranium exploration in North Frontenac contains a host of simmering issues: aboriginal land rights; economic development; surface versus mining rights; and ultimately the looming spectre of uranium contamination that could affect not only North Frontenac but a huge swath of land in Lanark County and beyond.
The issue was first raised publicly last fall, when some North Frontenac residents found that their land had been staked by prospectors and reacted in anger. Most of these residents have everything to lose and nothing to gain from this.
They had bought their land in order to build sanctuaries for themselves. Stakes and trenches, not to mention drills and rock crushers, are anathema to them. They then contacted people who have faced the same issues, such as the Bedford Mining Alert and the Citizens’ Mining Action Group (Tay Valley), and have received advice and support from these groups.
Meanwhile Frontenac Ventures Corporation has been quietly setting up shop at a rented building on the Robertsville mine site. They have hired local people, summer students, and some experts who have been staying in the area and spending money. They have deeper pockets than just about anyone else around, and many people expect that more money will be flowing to the community as exploration continues.
George White, founder of Frontenac Ventures, said earlier this week, “This is one of the poorest townships in Ontario, and mining is one of the best-paying industries.”
The live and let live attitude that has developed between the established multi-generational families and people who have moved into North Frontenac in search of peace, quiet, and rural charm, has been broken by this issue.
The fact that uranium is involved, and that the land in question is part of the Algonquin Land Claim, only makes the situation more complicated.
The history of uranium mining has been an abysmal one in terms of environmental impacts, at best. There are many horror stories about contaminated land and air, and dangerous effluent leaching into watersheds and being carried downstream.
The exploration phase as outlined by representatives from Frontenac Ventures, sounds benign, but those who oppose the project point to contamination in other jurisdictions even at the exploration stage.
Even Frontenac Ventures admits that uranium mining has caused major environmental damage, but they say it couldn’t happen now because regulations are much stricter. Guarantees must be in place, and companies must put money to safely close the mine in escrow before they so much as put a shovel to the ground. They also say this debate is premature, as they don’t even know if the resource is sufficient to justify mining.
Bob Lovelace, who represents the Family Head Council of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, used an analogy to address this issue: “If we had been lucky enough to know that a SARS patient was on a plane headed our way, would we ignore that information?” he asked.
Lovelace told the News that the Ardoch Family Heads Council has reviewed the issue carefully, and even though they prefer to support economic development and would be happy to share in the benefits a mine might bring, “we think the risk to the Ottawa Valley is too great. This is not a matter of sovereignty for us, it is a matter of stewardship.”
Sovereignty does play into this, however.
Frontenac Ventures has played by the rules as set out by the Mining Act in everything they have done thus far. In relation to the governments of Ontario and Canada, they are within their rights in pursuing their project. Only the fact that the title to the land they are exploring is unresolved and is subject to a land claim between Canada, Ontario, and the Algonquins puts their right to explore in any kind of doubt.
As we have explored at length in the pages of this newspaper, the Algonquin Land Claim is itself a tortuous issue, and it is into this issue that Frontenac Venture Corporation has become embroiled.
George White said this week that Frontenac Ventures is planning to negotiate with Chief Doreen Davis of the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation, and writes of the Ardoch Algonquins (AAFNA) as a “radical group”.
AAFNA has sent a letter to Frontenac Ventures asking them to vacate their offices at the Robertsville mine site, and are planning to go to the site on June 28 to ensure that Frontenac Ventures is gone. They are planning a celebration at the site on the 29th, in honour of Aboriginal Protest Day.
George White said that he has given his students some vacation time, but vows to return to the site once the “radicals” are gone. He said he has not been contacted by anyone from the federal or provincial governments asking him to alter Frontenac Ventures’ plans in any way. He has talked to the OPP, who will be monitoring the planned events on June 28 and 29. There is no expectation of any trouble on those days.
There are a series of disputes and disagreements over the uranium project, and all of the competing interests will be impossible to reconcile. The simmering land claim dispute and fears over the impacts of a mine will not go away any time soon.
As an observer I would not want to wade into most of these debates. However, I would, and will be asking Frontenac Ventures for more detailed assurances that a uranium mine can be safely opened and closed in North Frontenac. Just saying that the regulations are stringent does not make me sleep easy. It would help if there were an example of a uranium mine, anywhere in the world, that has caused no lasting environmental damage.
That would be a start.