Banner in front of the tents near the proposed Frontenac Ventures uranium mine
In a phone conversation with Maren Molthan, Susan Freeman, Deputy Reeve in Tay Valley Township and Councillor for Lanark County, described her latest efforts to turn the protest in the communities with uranium mining into alterations to the Ontario Mining Act. She has worked on that for years and met with Bill Mauro, parliamentary assistant to Northern Development and Mining Minister Rick Bartolucci on Tuesday, the 21st of August. Susan also talked to Jim Bradley, Minister for Tourism of Ontario. The purpose of these meetings was to attract some Ministerial attention on the treatment and consequences residents of Lanark County and Tay Valley Township face with uranium and graphite mining.
Maren Molthan: When did you start advocating for a change in the Mining Act towards more rights for private land owners, was that in your time as Warden of Lanark County for the 2004-2005 term of office?
Susan Freeman: No earlier, just six months after I was elected to Tay Valley Council when the first stakings happened for graphite exploration in Tay Valley.
MM: You have filed a resolution to make some changes to the Ontario Mining Act. What do they consist in?
SF: Some private property owners do not possess their sub-surface (mineral rights) on their property, only the surface rights. The situation here in Southern Ontario is very residential. The Mining Act was created much in favour of the development of the North, which we acknowledge. The resolution aims to make the mining rights accessible to the property owner so if they wish, to merge their surface and mineral rights.
MM: What was the reaction?
SF: Both were very sympathetic, although they seemed to be very unfamiliar with the situation here in Eastern Ontario. The Tourism Minister disputed my statement that the proclamation of the Rideau Canal as World Heritage Site represents in fact, Ontario’s first and only World Heritage Site. Bill Mauro, also the current MPP of the Riding of Thunder Bay-Rainy River, didn’t seem to be aware of the now UNESCO-protected status of the Rideau Canal at all.
Note of the editor: look up all Canadian World Heritage Sites here.
MM: What would you like to see happening to improve the position of private landowners in Lanark and Tay Valley?
SF: We asked the government for a moratorium on the uranium mining in Ontario. On the same note: I hope that our MPP for Lanark, Norm Sterling, will voice our concern in the house.
MM: With regards to Bill Mauro also being the current MPP for Thunder Bay-Rainy River – how much do you see a conflict of interest in Mauro – at the same time – holding also the position of the Minister’s parliamentary assistant?
SF: No, each Minister works with another MPP who is their parliamentary assistant. Hopefully, even though from the north, they work for all Ontarians.
MM: How do you think/expect the Ministries to react?
SF: It is an election year, so who knows!
MM: Do you know of any session, where the house or the committee in charge will likely discuss the resolution or the Mining Act itself? If so, when is that scheduled?
SF: After the EBR (Environmental Bill of Rights) postings then there should be committee hearings on changes to the Act.
MM: How do you think the Ontario Vote in October is going to impact the
SF: Certainly in this riding it well might have an effect.
MM: What is your next step?
SF: Our next step is to ask both councils to pass a motion on a moratorium on uranium mining and on the protection of the Rideau Corridor in Tay Valley and Lanark County.
Excerpt of the resolution:
“(…) the Mining Act of Ontario recognizes separate mining and surface rights on many private lands, bringing about a state of affairs where there may be two owners to one property; (…)”
Susan Freeman can be reached here:
To not own the surface rights of a property does not prevent any mining operator to process exploratory drillings for Uranium at any given time on that property. Now, even with this 150 years old practise remaining legal, it may conflict with the UNESCO protection, because the Rideau Canal is water-connected with the concerned communities, also known as the land of lakes. J.D. Kittle residing in Snow Road, voiced concerns in an open letter, criticizing the Mining Act in a very similar way (see archives for entire open letter):
“The Ontario Mining Act allows mining companies to conduct this prospecting and exploration activity without the knowledge or permission of property owners. There is also no requirement to notify or consult with the Crown when exploration takes place on unpatented Crown land. The exploration process itself can and has in the past done serious damage to property. The Ontario Mining Act allows excavation of thousands of tons of material in the exploration stage without environmental assessment and without a requirement to restore the land. The drilling process itself has risks … the planned depth of ~400 meters causes drill holes to become “wells”, which have to be filled to prevent upflow of contaminated water into the watershed. Drilling can also affect the stability of underground water aquifers that supply clean drinking water to wells in our area.
If exploration leads to an operational mine, ore is removed by strip-mining and shipped to a processing site, usually located as close as possible to the mine site. Uranium ore is crushed and leached using large quantities of water. The sludge or tailings, which still contains substantial quantities of radioactive material, are dumped into special tailings ponds. Reports in 1980 by the Ontario Environmental Assessment Board on Elliott Lake solved many of the problems, but cited significant residual risks in the area of long-term viability of these tailings ponds. More recently in 2003 and 2006, Cameco in northern Saskatchewan, which is the world’s largest uranium producer, suffered three major flood-related spills, in spite of new technologies in tailings pond management. In North Frontenac and Lanark, mining and processing of uranium ore is of special concern since a pond failure or accidental spill could cause toxins to flow into the Mississippi River watershed, thereby impacting tens of thousands of people in villages, towns and cities downstream, including the City of Ottawa.
There are hundreds of cases where mining companies have walked away from mines or processing facilities leaving a mess for the province to clean up. In December 2005, the Ontario Auditor General identified, out of 5400 abandoned mine sites in Ontario, at least 250 are ‘toxic waste dumps, leaching acidic, metals contaminated drainage into water-courses and aquifers’, and the AG strongly criticized the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines over their failure to protect the environment and Ontario taxpayers from the long-term impacts of mining.
In terms of documented health risks, the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Act states: ‘primary cancers of the trachea, bronchus and lung among workers previously employed in uranium mining in Ontario are recognized as occupational diseases under the Workplace Safety & Insurance Act. They are both characteristic of uranium mining and result from exposure to ionizing radiation relating to the uranium mining industry’.
In relation to the government’s new Clean Air and Clean Water Act, we are concerned about the impact of potential uranium mining pollution on the water supply of hundreds of thousands of people in villages, towns and cities downstream on the Mississippi and Ottawa River systems. We do not want a repeat of Elliott Lake and other uranium mining disasters throughout the world. Airborne radioactive dust is carried by winds and will directly affect not only mine employees, but thousands of Ontario residents in Frontenac County, Lanark County, Tay Valley and the City of Ottawa other area townships.
Farmers and rural businesses are very concerned about the effects of uranium mining on tourism, agriculture and other traditional rural businesses and land uses. Property owners have already suffered a negative impact on property values and in many cases have indefinitely delayed plans for property purchases or improvements at a substantial cost to local economies.
Nova Scotia has already enacted a province-wide moratorium on uranium mining due to serious health and environmental concerns and the poor environmental record of the mining companies. British Columbia is presently considering a similar moratorium. Nova Scotia’s moratorium was prompted by contamination from exploratory drilling.
The root of the problem is that the Ontario Mining Act is over 150 years old, and is long overdue for a major overhaul. Over the last few years, many proposals have been submitted to the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (many at the request of the Ministry), but to date no substantive changes have been made to the Act. The unfairness of the current Mining Act and its extreme bias toward mining company rights over the rights of property owners and First Nations people is encouraging uranium mining exploration and development that is completely incompatible with current land use in our area.
We request that the Ontario government enact an immediate moratorium on uranium exploration, mining and processing in eastern Ontario and initiate a public review of Ontario’s Mining Act.”
J.D. Kittle can be reached here:
PO Box 1050, Snow Road, ON, K0H 2R0
Maren Molthan freelances for various media east and west of the Atlantic and can be reached here: