Part 3 – Environmental Assessments: Botany and Biology
During the open houses on November 18, presenters did not elaborate on very technical results of baseline studies. However, they were prepared to answer questions by people with special knowledge or special interests.
Stantec Consulting Ltd. examined fish tissue for arsenic and mercury. With regard to “small-bodied fish” (minnows, in local parlance), arsenic levels are four times higher in Barton Bay, and two times higher in the Central Basin, than in the Southwest Arm of Kenogamisis Lake. During the draft Terms of Reference process, a tourist outfitter/operator on Kenogamisis Lake expressed concern about his source of drinking water: “What will this new mining development do to . . . existing levels?”
As for comparison with Canadian guidelines, none exist for arsenic in fish tissue.
There were elevated levels of mercury in the lake overall, but no evidence that the levels were associated with historic mining activities. During the draft Terms of Reference process, a member of the public asked, “What will the mine development do to the mercury levels in these fish [fish which already have elevated mercury levels]?”
Stantec examined the benthic community in the lake, meaning the organisms associated with the lake bed. It found the highest diversity of invertebrates in the Southwest Arm, and moderate diversity in Barton Bay. There do not appear to be any conclusions drawn about the difference.
The 4,300 fish (including “small-bodied fish”) captured in the studies represented 23 species. Larger fish included walleye, lake whitefish, Northern pike, yellow perch, and burbot. No fish represented species at risk.
As for adverse impacts on aquatic organisms, arsenic levels in sediment exceeded provincial and federal guidelines in Barton Bay and the Central Basin. And, “some copper and iron levels also exceed water quality guidelines. Iron exceeds provincial severe impact levels in Barton Bay”. Again, it is difficult for the layman to make any inference from this information. One technical report states, “The data generated as part of this study will be used in the assessment of effects due to changes in water quality . . . “
Studies identified 43 ecosite community types, including wetlands, waterfowl stopover areas, and snake hibernacula (winter dens). There were also rare vegetation communities (e.g., sparse treed fen), seeps and springs, and bird nesting habitats.
Studies identified 245 species of plants, 6 species of amphibians (e.g., salamander), 2 of reptiles (1 turtle, 1 snake), 129 of birds, 16 of mammals (including 3 species of bats), and 24 species of insects.
Stantec identified 6 species at risk or species of conservation
concern, namely, Canada warbler, common nighthawk, eastern wood peewee, little brown bat, northern bat, and taiga alpine butterfly. No one saw a woodland caribou, nor did anyone expect to see one.
During the draft Terms of Reference process, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry commented: “The protection and management of wildlife habitat is fundamental to the maintenance of self-sustaining populations of wildlife and to biodiversity. The fragmentation of wildlife habitat through development lessens the value of the habitat, and also results in the loss of wildlife related opportunities, such as recreational viewing and hunting. Natural heritage features are matters of provincial interest.”
In the project development area, almost everything of a botanical or biological nature will be impacted. The waste rock and overburden storage areas, for example, cover enormous areas. The piles will be stepped up, with new benches or levels established. Requests to Greenstone Gold Mines for more specific information have not elicited responses yet.
The realignment of Highway 11 will also destroy or degrade a considerable natural area. The new route will run in the shadow of the hills of waste rock and overburden. There has been no public discussion yet about the opportunities for establishing a highway commercial/industrial corridor, or utilizing more of the local study area (beyond the boundaries of the project development area) for residential purposes. The Project has proposed one housing subdivision on the shore at the west end of Barton Bay. The Project is also proposing to use the corridor for a new OPP building and an information centre. The preferred option for the location of the new Hydro One substation is the Old Arena Road close to the existing highway.
The last article in this series will examine the assessment of archaeological and historical values, a subject close to the hearts and minds of many local residents.