Marathon anxious for new mine; hearing delayed

By Carl Clutchey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Chronicle Journal

Hearing delayed by one month, due to spiking COVID-19 cases

Marathon, Ont. — The independent environmental panel reviewing a proposed palladium and copper mine near Marathon should tighten up the timeline allotted to complete its report, once a 30-day hearing into the project has been completed, says the town’s mayor.

In a letter sent on Monday to panel chair Debra Sikora, Mayor Rick Dumas suggests Sikora and her two co-panelists should be able to complete their report regarding the Generation Mining project “no later than 60 days after the completion” of the hearing.

“The town believes that this timeline is reasonable to draft and issue the necessary recommendations given the compendium of data and information that has already been submitted to date through the project review process,” Dumas writes in the brief letter.

The hearing into the mine proposal was originally set to begin on Feb. 15. But the panel delayed the start by a month because it said a spike in COVID-19 cases could negatively impact the ability of some participating parties to adequately prepare.

Dumas, who is eager for the mine to get constructed a short drive from town, said he finds that explanation hard to swallow. Preparations are likely not being done in person, he said.

A spokeswoman for the review panel said Wednesday it maintains its earlier position to postpone the hearing.

The panel “believes that (the rise in COVID-19 cases) may have notable implications for participants to effectively prepare for the public hearing,” Shelley Rolland-Poruks said in an email. “The panel is concerned for the safety of the public and all participants.”

Generation Mining president Jamie Levy said the month-long delay “is disappointing.”

“We’re a small company, so this is going to cost us money,” Levy said. “But on the positive side, it will give everyone who wants to contribute more time to prepare.”

The new date for the hearing, which is to be held virtually, is March 14. Those who want to participate must register with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada by Feb. 12.

Last summer, Ontario Environment Minister David Piccini and Ontario Northern Development and Mines Minister Greg Rickford co-signed a letter suggesting information requests by the panel being put to Generation Mining risked having the mine’s startup face “unnecessary delays.”

In the wake of the letter, the panel spokeswoman told The Chronicle-Journal that the panel was able to gather the information it needed prior to the hearing’s commencement within the time it was given.

NDP MPP Michael Mantha (Algoma-Manitoulin) said it was inappropriate for an environment minister to weigh in, when the panel is supposed to be conducting its review without any political interference.

Last summer, MP Patty Hajdu, whose Thunder Bay-Superior North riding includes Marathon, said she recognized the future mine’s economic value but said the panel’s independence needs to be respected.

Once the hearing has been completed, the panel will write a report recommending either that the Generation Mining project should proceed, or not be approved. The report could be completed by mid-June.

If the open-pit mine is approved by the provincial and federal governments, it’s slated to create about 400 jobs, with an initial mine life of 13 years.