YELLOWKNIFE -- December 6 -- The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and the Dehcho First Nations will be in the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories in Yellowknife today, opposing assertions by Canadian Zinc Corporation, a junior mining company, that their proposal to re-build a winter road should be exempt from an environmental assessment. The road would run through an area identified for expansion of the Nahanni National Park Reserve - a renowned World Heritage Site in the NWT. The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, the regulatory authority in the region, ruled that the road proposal must undergo an environmental assessment. CPAWS and the Dehcho First Nations, represented by Sierra Legal Defence Fund, are supporting the Board's decision through their intervention in the judicial review.
The road would run through the mountainous Nahanni karstlands, an area already under interim protection under an agreement between the Government of Canada and the Dehcho. Both CPAWS and the Dehcho First Nations are opposed to the reconstruction of the winter road because of concerns about its environmental impacts.
On May 6, 2004, the Dehcho First Nations Leadership unanimously passed a Resolution opposing the development of a winter road to the Prairie Creek mine site, stating "the Prairie Creek winter road would have significant environmental impacts in the Nahanni watershed and greater Nahanni ecosystem".
"The Dehcho First Nations support protection of the entire South Nahanni Watershed, including the area through which this road would run," said Grand Chief Herb Norwegian. "We are working collaboratively with Parks Canada to expand Nahanni National Park Reserve to protect this area."
CPAWS also supports the protection of the entire South Nahanni Watershed, calling the proposed national park expansion "one of the world's great opportunities to protect an intact watershed in the boreal forest region".
"The Nahanni karstlands, just north of the current park boundary, have been identified by scientists as having globally unique and sensitive geological formations that should be added to the park," notes Greg Yeoman, Conservation Director for CPAWS-NWT. "To re-open a mining road through this scientifically important area could place these sensitive features at risk. We are also concerned about possible contamination of groundwater that flows into the South Nahanni River. Areas of limestone karst are particularly susceptible to water contamination."
The company claims that the road reconstruction should be exempt from environmental assessment because it previously had a permit.
"But the last time the road was licensed was in 1983," says lawyer Devon Page of Sierra Legal. "We will argue in support of the Board, that there have been significant changes to the road application as well as to the proposed mine that the road is supposed to service. This project must be assessed in light of the threats to the environment that it poses today, not 20 years ago."
The case, which is expected to take one day, will be heard today. The court's decision is expected in early 2005. Backgrounder is available at: www.cpaws.org/nahanni
Sierra Legal Defence Fund is Canada's foremost national non-profit organization dedicated to enforcing and strengthening the laws that safeguard our environment, wildlife and public health. www.sierralegal.org