The Sandy Pond fish: where are they now?

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Vale operating within environment, Fisheries Act regulations

Vale paid to move about 1,400 fish from Sandy Pond to other ponds near Long Harbour. Then, the company claimed their former home as a containment area for tailings from its new hydromet nickel processing plant.

Arguments on whether or not the move should ever have been allowed were part of the Sandy Pond Alliance’s Federal Court challenge Thursday morning in St. John’s.

Justice Elizabeth Heneghan is now taking time with the submissions before issuing her decision.

The legal challenge was launched in 2010 and is attacking existing federal regulations, under the Fisheries Act, allowing for the use of freshwater bodies like Sandy Pond as containers for mine waste.

Lawyer Owen Myers, representing the alliance, said in his final remarks the group believes standing regulations do not preserve “the conservation function of the Act” and are, essentially, beyond what should be able to be established under the current law.

He also raised the subject of compensation for lakes and ponds that are lost to mining activities — the so-called “no net loss” requirement. The compensation required for the loss of a fish habitat is “just so basically sketched out,” he said.

Yet, in the case of Sandy Pond, Vale offered at least 12 options for tailings storage — options vetted as part of the project’s review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Using Sandy Pond as a tailings impoundment area has required investment in environmental study, site preparation and, of course, the fish transfer.

“Prior to the start of fish transfer, samples were collected and sent to the Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island where both disease and genetic profiling was performed,” stated a company newsletter in November 2012.

The fish, mostly trout, were taken out of the pond by staff with AMEC Earth and Environmental in two campaigns. The first was from July-September, 2011 and the second in June 2012, with about 700 collected in each run.

AMEC staff used live-capture traps and tended gill nets to catch the fish and remove them from the pond. They also fished with barbless hooks. The fish went into tanks and were then transferred to nearby Burns Path Pond and Maturin Pond.

Vale has added three dams at the Sandy Pond site — increasing the capacity of the impoundment area.

The company also went about grouting — filling in points where any risk of seepage was identified.

Liners have been installed, along with five monitoring wells the provincial Department of Environment will be free to access.

Vale will be adding its own bi-weekly and monthly sampling of groundwater from the area for laboratory analysis, as ongoing assurance the holding area is acting as designed.

The site formerly known as Sandy Pond will start being filled with hydromet tailings when the processing facility begins production, scheduled for later this year.

The preparation of the impoundment area illustrates a fundamental argument of supporters of the Sandy Pond Alliance. “What you’ve done here is you’ve eliminated a lake,” Myers said.

Yet Sandy Pond is not the only pond affected by construction at Long Harbour.

Two other, unnamed, ponds were filled in as part of the processing plant’s construction.

And water for the processing plant is being sourced from Rattling Brook Big Pond. According to a 2008 filing to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the hydromet process will need about 4.4 million cubic metres of water a year.

 

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Organizations: College in Prince Edward Island, Sandy Pond Alliance, Department of Environment Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency

Geographic location: Sandy Pond, Long Harbour, Burns Path Pond

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Recent comments

  • Corporate Psycho
    March 05, 2013 - 20:23

    Wasn't this one of Danny's and Charlene Johnson's improvements to the Vale Deal? By the way any word on when Voiseys ore is going to be refined? Why doesn't someone start asking that question?

  • John Gibson
    March 04, 2013 - 12:39

    Fishery managers have known for years that you do not stock waters with a species of different genetic background, because this results in loss of fitness of the receiving stock. Also was it shown that Burns Path Pond and Maturin Pond were below carrying capacity? If these ponds are at carrying capacity (likely) the extra fish will die. Maturin Pond has a unique population of smelt, which instead of immigrating for spawning in early spring, migrate into the pond in the fall, overwintering before spawning. If the dwarf smelt from Sandy Pond survive and spawn with the indigenous smelt, there will be a loss of fitness and fewer smelt. Smelt are very important since they bring in nutrients from the sea, their eggs are the main food of young salmon and trout, and the older smelt are eaten by bigger fish and by birds and some mammals. This 'fish transfer' is simply a public relations stunt. The DFO lawyer claimed that a terrestrial reservoir would have covered 70 ha, but ignored the fact that the toxic waste dump will include two other ponds and will cover 74 ha,

  • Corporate Psycho
    March 01, 2013 - 16:52

    Charlene Johnson, laughingly the Environment Minister at the time, made this decision and sold the environment out to VALE. It was one of Danny's "improvements" to the VALE deal. Worst decision ever.

  • Tangly Web
    March 01, 2013 - 12:52

    Anyone ever hear of using a gill net to capture a fish for relocation? To kill and remove them yes, but not to relocate them in a live state capable of survival at another location. Would have been easy to catch them alive with an electrofisher as the water levels were lowered during the draining operation. Barbless hooks would not be very efficient means of capture but was probably great sport for those that were permitted to participate.

  • Tangly Web
    March 01, 2013 - 12:43

    Anyone ever hear of using a gill net to capture a fish for relocation? To kill and remove them yes, but not to relocate them in a live state capable of survival at another location. Would have been easy to catch them alive with an electrofisher as the water levels were lowered during the draining operation. Barbless hooks would not be very efficient means of capture but was probably great sport for those that were permitted to participate.

  • Tangly Web
    March 01, 2013 - 12:41

    Anyone ever hear of using a gill net to capture a fish for relocation? To kill and remove them yes, but not to relocate them in a live state capable of survival at another location. Would have been easy to catch them alive with an electrofisher as the water levels were lowered during the draining operation. Barbless hooks would not be very efficient means of capture but was probably great sport for those that were permitted to participate.

  • We, the electorate have to take a stance on the rip-off of our natural resources.
    March 01, 2013 - 12:04

    FED UP I, too, am sick of greedy Politicians enabling greedy Corporates to rape the planet so that both of them can prosper economically. After all Governments and Corporations are made up of greedy humans who get control through elections and association with each other. These people will develop everything that they are allowed to get their hands on, so when are we, the electorate, going to take a stance and have all of these greedy people who are in control brought to justice. We, the electorate, the owners of the natural resources in our province will be the plaintiffs. Let us take a stance now and stop the rip-off of our natural resources and probably save our province from bankruptcy! We all have been told that the cost of the projects on the go will escalate in costs, what will cause that to happen in an era where everybody else's salary is being put in a straight jacket? Of course it will be manipulation by those in control!

  • Fed up
    March 01, 2013 - 11:08

    I am so sick of greedy corporations and compliant governments raping the planet and destroying everything in their path as they make a mad dash for more profit. When is it going to stop? What is it going to take?

  • Brad
    March 01, 2013 - 09:42

    What a load of B.S., I am sure that there was a lot more than 1400 trout in a pond that size. What were the other fish they caught if they state they were mostly trout? Could it be Arctic Char, Rainbow Smelt, or American Eel all of which are species at risk? Sandy Pond was a unique ecosystem that has been destroyed and never to be replaced. What the government and this foreign polluter are doing is criminal.