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Rare earth element mine could mean big changes for Labrador town

Search Minerals Inc. is proposing a new rare earth element mine located approximately 36 kilometres southeast of Port Hope Simpson. -
Search Minerals Inc. is proposing a new rare earth element mine near St. Lewis in Labrador. -

Public asked to comment on project located near St. Lewis

ST. LEWIS, NL – The federal and provincial governments are looking for comments on a proposed rare earth element mine on the south coast of Labrador.

The Foxtrot Rare Earth Element Mine Project is currently the subject of an environmental assessment by the provincial government.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) is deciding whether a federal environmental assessment is required.

Both processes are currently asking for comments from the public and impacted groups.

The proposed project is near the Town of St. Lewis. Mayor Helen Poole said council certainly plans to submit comments.

“I know it’ll have an impact in all the communities in the area, but it’ll really impact us,” she said. “We’re excited but we have to be cautious on how it’s going to impact us, so we want this environmental study done.”

Search Minerals, the mining and exploration company that owns the project, plans to mine for elements such as neodymium, praseodymium, europium, terbium, dysprosium, and yttrium.

The company discovered what it calls the Port Hope Simpson Rare Earth Element District, a belt about 70 kilometres long and up to eight kilometres wide. The proposal is to start with an open pit operating for six months of the year (May to October) and then moving underground, where it will operate all year.

“There’s a long belt of rare earth elements there,” said Poole. “It stretches from St. Lewis to the Deer Harbour area, and what they found in our community is very highly concentrated. Right behind our town they found a really good deposit.”

If the company get approval and starts up the mine, it could mean jobs for the area, especially St. Lewis, something Poole said is needed.

“Right now, we have about 190 people and there’s no work in town, no industry,” she said. “Most people are flying in and out working at Muskrat (Falls) and Voisey’s Bay, but if we can have people come home to work, that’s every community’s dream.”

The mine is expected to be in production for 14 years and could employ between 139 and 222 individuals. Some locals are working with the company now, but there is potential for more employment.

Despite the potential benefits, Poole said the town is being cautious about the impacts.

“We need to look at what’s going to happen in the long term … what it’s going to look like after the mine is gone, how it’s going to impact our water supply. Will it affect our water supply? Will it contaminate it? I guess that’s what the environmental assessment is for,” she said.

Poole said she has been researching rare earth element mines in other countries, since none exist in Canada, and she is concerned by what she has seen in terms of environmental impact.

She hopes it would be different in Canada.

Search Minerals has been very open and easy to deal with, Poole said. The company has been communicative throughout the project genesis, right from the beginning when it didn’t know if there was anything there or not.

“When they first started talking to us about this, they said they were cautiously optimistic about it going ahead,” Poole said. “Now we are.”

The deadline for public comments to the provincial government is Jan. 9, 2018 and the minister’s decision is due by Jan. 15.

The deadline for comments to the CEAA is Dec. 21. The agency will then post a decision on its website stating whether an environmental assessment is required.

If one is required, the public will have three more opportunities to comment on the environmental assessment of the project.

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