Plans to expand the Ekati diamond mine have received approval from an environmental review board.

Ekati’s owners want to begin developing the site’s largest remaining kimberlite deposit, known as the Jay pipe.

A review of the project by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board, published on Monday, concluded that the work should go ahead – as long as measures are put in place “to prevent significant adverse impacts on the environment and mitigate the causes of public concern”.

The review board’s recommendation will now pass to the territorial lands minister, Robert C McLeod, who has the final say on approving the project.

In full: Review board’s report on Ekati’s Jay expansion plans (pdf)

Mining the Jay pipe will, according to the project team, require construction of a four-kilometre dike in Lac du Sauvage to create an open pit.

A new seven-kilometre road will also be needed, with a consequent increase in traffic at the site.

The review board approved the Jay project despite deciding it will probably have a significant impact on water quality, fish and particularly caribou in the area.

“The project proposes to cross an important caribou migration corridor at a time when the herd is in a precarious and ‘extremely worrisome’ state,” the report reads.

“The Jay project will create physical barriers that prevent caribou from moving freely and add sensory disturbances such as noise and visual stimuli along an important migration corridor. This is a cause of serious public concern.”

The review board says Dominion Diamond, Ekati’s operator, must design its new roads to minimize impact on caribou; work to suppress dust from the project; and use traditional knowledge more effectively in the company’s caribou research – including funding an Elders’ group “to advise on constructing roads and operating to prevent impacts to caribou”.

Concerns over the impact on fast-diminishing NWT caribou numbers were raised repeatedly during public hearings regarding the project last fall.

September 2015: Ekati owners defend expansion as caribou numbers plunge

Another focus of Monday’s report is the detrimental effect of diamond mines on traditional ways of life in the Northwest Territories.

In response to that, measures Dominion must undertake include an updated strategy “to train, recruit and employ women, particularly in non-traditional trades and occupations”. The company must also create a cultural camp near the Jay project for use by community groups.

Other measures recommended by the review board include:

  • Managing water to protect traditional Aboriginal uses after closure
  • Setting up an independent panel to make sure the dike is safe
  • More community engagement
  • Following up on all measures to make sure they are implemented, and are effective

“The review board has concluded that the impacts of the Jay project can be mitigated by these and other measures, in addition to implementing the commitments Dominion made,” reads the report’s summary. “The board recommends it should proceed to the regulatory phase for approvals.”

The board also said Dominion should be commended “for responding to community concerns it heard early in this environmental assessment and significantly changing its project design to avoid the potential impacts”.

September 2015: Dominion says Jay pipe is ‘key’ as public hearings begin

Dominion is pursuing two expansions at Ekati: the Jay pipe and a similar deposit named Sable. The company hopes to have both Jay and Sable in production by 2021 and believes that would prolong processing at full capacity until 2033.

However, expansion is a slow process. If the lands minister grants his approval, the project will still require the usual array of permits associated with development in the North.