Sandy Pond fish to be relocated soon

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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A group of environmental activists hiked to Sandy Pond last year to view the pond before Vale began construction of its hydromet nickel processing plant near Long Harbour. Vale will use the pond to store tailings from the plant. Charter file photo

Vale intends to proceed this year with its compensation plan for Sandy Pond, which includes moving fish from the pond to a new habitat, but the company says no fish have been moved yet.

"We do have all the approvals in place," company spokesman Bob Carter said Monday. "This year, it is our intent to do work in that area."

He said an ongoing court challenge, launched by the Sandy Pond Alliance against Vale's plan to use the pond for the disposal of tailings from its Long Harbour hydromet nickel processing plant, won't have any effect on the company moving ahead with its compensation plan because the lawsuit is between the alliance and the federal government.

Carter said work is proceeding to access the area, a trail has been cut, but a road has yet to be built. The actual timing of when the fish will be moved will be up to the site managers.

Owen Myers, lawyer for the Sandy Pond Alliance, said he's heard rumours that the company may be moving fish soon and, if they have ministerial approval, they can "roll ahead any time."

He said the alliance has discussed this and it's not in a position to seek an injunction to stop the relocation of fish because it's spending all its resources on challenging the legislation that permits the project.

The alliance launched its court challenge last year against metal mining effluent regulations created through a Canada's Fisheries Act amendment. The alliance maintains the regulations are contrary to the intent of the Fisheries Act because they permit the destruction of freshwater fish habitat and unique biodiversity.

Myers said the alliance had to make a decision a long time ago about whether to file injunctions, and had to accept, in challenging the regulations for the sake of all ponds, rivers and lakes across the country, that the court challenge might not be heard in time to stop the Long Harbour project.

He said the company has an army of lawyers and unlimited resources and doesn't care if it spends $20 million.

"It means nothing to them."

If the alliance unwisely spends the little bit of funding it has and what it can raise, nothing will be achieved, Myers said.

"You can get this short-term advantage and a bit of publicity, but after that you'll just roll over to the side of the legal road, out of fuel."

Documents prepared by the company's lawyers for the case are about three-feet high, Myers said, whereas the alliance has just one lawyer and an affidavit of about 20 pages from John Gibson, a former Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) scientist.

At a recent federal court hearing, Myers said the company's lawyers wouldn't agree to anything and are even challenging Gibson's affidavit as being based on hearsay, yet one of their witnesses claims he was told by residents that smelt were first introduced into Sandy Pond years ago by trout fishermen who wanted to catch big trout so they could win the May 24th prize at the Sports Shop.

"We all just killed ourselves laughing," Myers said, to think that fishermen would illegally transport live smelt in buckets under each arm, while slogging it over three to four miles of rough terrain to get to the pond.

The two sides are expected back in court in September and Myers said he's hoping they can set timelines for the actual court case.

Myers said it's his understanding the company has recently been doing work in the Northeast Placentia River and at Salmon Cove in Conception Bay, adding gravel and removing obstructions, claiming that by doing this more salmon will go up there. But Myers said experts on the alliance side think what the company is doing is nonsense because there's already fish in the river.

He said the company's plans seem to miss that there's only so much food in the river system for the fish to eat.

"It's like you could have 10 cows in a field doing very well, but put 100 in and they're all going to start starving," Myers said.

He believes the whole compensation plan is poorly conceived. Taking a unique population of trout that has developed over 10,000 years and that feed on smelt and dumping them in another lake will double the damage.

"You destroy one lake and genetically modify another lake," Myers said.

In a Canadian Society of Environmental Biologists newsletter, Gibson said compensation for the destruction and alteration of fish habitat was calculated as 18.11 hectares of "lacustrine habitat" to be created by making a reservoir, two-to-eight-square metres deep and impounding a nearby valley. The company also plans to expand existing ponds which have filled in with vegetation to create five hectares of aquatic habitat.

Gibson said the calculation requiring only 18.11 hectares of lacustrine habitat is based on a DFO document describing how to assign ratings to habitat features for each fish species.

The alliance believes the compensation proposal is "naive and inadequate."

One of its arguments is that Sandy Pond brook trout have evolved an ecotype of large fish that use the pelagic, mid-waters of the lake and feed on dwarf smelt.

Therefore, Gibson said the pelagic zone of Sandy Pond should be given a much higher rating for the trout than was given in the company's environmental impact statement.

Organizations: Sandy Pond Alliance, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Sports Shop Canadian Society

Geographic location: Sandy Pond, Long Harbour, Canada Northeast Placentia River Salmon Cove Conception Bay

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Recent comments

  • Stupidity at it's finest
    August 04, 2011 - 09:11

    I am from the Long Harbour area and Vale Inco always makes promises they cannot keep. Starting with the promise of Jobs to first residents of the area to now the promise of sandy pond fishies that will not be harmed. It's ludicris that they are even able to get the land. Sandy Pond is a wonderful area and used to be surrounded by cabins, because of "Godzilla" inco. these cabin owners needed to tare down there prized cabins, and believe me some of them were quite beautiful. They owned there land but were forced to relocate. It's unfortunate that the NL government can be bought out... this one will surely come back to bite them in the butt.

  • Christine Baldwin
    August 02, 2011 - 22:48

    Poor Vision!! We cannot see the forest for the trees. In the name of progress we will sell our heirs' rights to the highest bidder!!??? The devil went down to "Sandy Pond", he was looking for a soul to steal He was in a bind 'cos he was way behind: he was willin' to make a deal. We donot want to be a province that is begging the US of A et al for water, fuel etc that is soooo in abundance right now!!

  • William Daniels
    August 02, 2011 - 18:57

    Disgusting. This was one of Danny's tweaks to the deal that someone could drive a mac truck through. Not to forget Charlene Johnson sold NL down the river/pond as well. Johnson would have let Vale put this stuff in her backyard.

  • Terry Cooper
    August 02, 2011 - 16:43

    I have fished in Sandy Pond , a beautiful area that was intoduced to me a few years ago by a gentleman who had enjoyed the fishing there himself for many years with his family . Sadly he is no longer living and I'm glad that he can't see what is happening to that wonderful area . It is one of the deepest ponds that I have ever fished with some of the largest trout to be sure . Are we still so desperate here in our province for a few jobs that we are willing to sacrifice our future and ou childrens future by letting these large companies come in to do whatever they want . Some lessons should have been learned from the past . The Americans left Argentia in a mess , Erco left their site toxic for us to deal with and for sure when Vale is finished making money here we will be left with another toxic mess and we will have look in the mirror once again and blame the only ones truly responsible !!!

  • Bob
    August 02, 2011 - 15:51

    Get this straight now b'ys. One time Environment Minister Charlene Johnson, cleverly disguised as a responsible adult and the mistress of all things to be screwed up, justified the Sandy Pond demise like this; "A good balance between sustainable environmental protection and economic developement". A classic like another minister clown Kevin O'Brien's "fairity". Honk! if anything else falls off.

  • John
    August 02, 2011 - 12:35

    If I were to go and throw some sort of polution into the pond, the government would have me in court as quick as greased lightning. Yet they allow a multi-national company that MAKES BILLIONS of dollars a year to "save" money by ruining all life in the pond. Do they guesstamate how many of these fish will actually survive? How will they know that all the fish will be caught even if they use nets or traps. The smelt, being similiar in size to a caplin, the net will require a very small mesh and it will be almost certain that not all fish will be caught. Maybe they should be forced to use 1 net for trout and another for the smelt and drain the pond in order to ensure they capture the majority of the fish.

    August 02, 2011 - 10:50

    There is already such a shortage of freshwater left on this planet. Why destroy the bit that we have for the sake of money? This is devastating. If only more could be done out of sincere concern for our natural resources instead of companies like this being able to win the battle by throwing money on the table.

  • Brad
    August 02, 2011 - 09:33

    Sandy Pond drains into the ocean, that's how the smelt got there. Vale can afford to spend tens of millions on legal fees as they have saved hundreds of millions by not having to build proper containment for their poison. The sandy Pond Alliance will lose this fight as they don't have the deep pockets like Vale and we all know it is all about who has the most money wins. I am form there and I have never heard about anyone bringing smelt to Sandy Pond, what a load of B.S. It just goes to show the scope of lies that this company is willing to tell to get its subsidy of a free dumping receptacle that is well hidden from the public eye. People have learned nothing since the days of Erco, they have a mess over there now buried under some grass and can't be cleaned up, and now they are creating another mess over the hill that will be even worse. Insanity.

  • Can't Believe it
    August 02, 2011 - 09:19

    Fresh water is one of 2 necessities of life. The other being oxygen. Scholars have predicted that fresh water (or lack thereof) will be the end of the planet. It is a finite resource, and we are removing one from our province for the sake of a companies profit margin.

  • Michael
    August 02, 2011 - 08:52

    Years from now, our children's generation will lament our decision to allow this destruction of Sandy Pond. Sadly, it looks like money will win this fight. Who has the most money for the legal/court challenges? Vale of course. SHAME on your gov't of NL. Polluting a fresh water resource is a huge mistake.