Court challenge to NWT mining project shows difficulty of northern development

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper promotes northern development on his swing through the Arctic, another court action that attempts to block mineral exploration is demonstrating just how complex that goal can be.

YELLOWKNIFE — As Prime Minister Stephen Harper promotes northern development on his swing through the Arctic, another court action that attempts to block mineral exploration is demonstrating just how complex that goal can be.

Two area aboriginal bands filed court documents Thursday claiming they weren’t adequately consulted on a lithium project north of Yellowknife by North Arrow Minerals (TSX.V: NAR).

Industry spokesmen say it’s another example of how vague legislation and unresolved land claims are stunting development in the Northwest Territories.

On the other hand, mine construction and exploration continue to move ahead in the Yukon and Nunavut.

“The complexity of (the regulatory regime) has just been chasing people to other jurisdictions,” said Mike Vaydik of the N.W.T. and Nunavut Chamber of Mines. “You just never know where you’re going to be standing.”

Lutsel K’e Chief Steven Nitah, who is a party to the lawsuit and was expected to meet with Harper on Thursday, said sorting out regulatory issues would help business much more than the $10-million-a-year federal development agency the prime minister announced for the North earlier this week.

“That would generate a hell of a lot more money than the $10 million, which is probably going to go to bureaucrats more than anything else.”

The Yellowknives and Lutsel K’e Dene bands are asking a Federal Court to overturn North Arrow’s exploration permit, which was granted by the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board.

North Arrow has been running a nine-man exploration camp in an area that is part of land-claim negotiations. The Vancouver-based company has so far spent $450,000 looking for lithium, a metal used in advanced batteries.

North Arrow informed Lutsel K’e and the Yellowknives of its plans, but the bands say the company rejected requests to finance formal consultations. Adequate input is constitutionally required for development on aboriginal land.

The bands expressed concern to the board, but it said the issue was up to the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. The department said North Arrow had done enough, so the board granted a five-year permit.

The bands say the board was wrong to rely on the department’s assessment.

It’s another example of developers running afoul of the N.W.T.’s regulatory process.

“It’s nothing new that there are regulatory issues in the N.W.T.,” said Gordon Clarke of North Arrow.

“They make it difficult for junior mining companies.”

Earlier this year, Bayswater Uranium withdrew applications for two exploration projects because of local opposition, even though the board had recommended approval for one of them.

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