Community Access Road Project Update
The intent of our project newsletter is to describe and explain current and ongoing activities by the Marten Falls First Nation (MFFN) Community Access Road (CAR) Project Team, and to answer common questions that come up as the provincial environmental assessment (EA) and federal impact assessment (IA) moves forward.
IA, EA & Study Plan Update
On October 23, 2020, the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the Provincial Environmental Assessment (EA) was submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) marking the start of a 60-day public review comment period being led by MECP and ending on December 21, 2020. Based on feedback received by MECP asking for more time to respond, the comment period was extended until March 31, 2021 for First Nations.
During the public review comment period, MECP passed along feedback received to the CAR Project Team and AECOM for response. Beginning in December 2020, the CAR Project Team and AECOM prepared responses to the comments received, and where necessary, referred comments to the province for response. The CAR Project Team responses were provided to MECP whom then forwarded our responses to those who submitted the comments. Throughout the extended comment period AECOM reached out to community contacts as a reminder of a deadline and to confirm if additional comments would be provided on the ToR or if communities wanted to meet. We anticipate that MECP will issue a decision on the ToR later this spring. Once a decision is made on the ToR, the provincial EA enters the assessment phase and effectively catches up to the federal IA process that is already in its assessment phase. The beginning of the next formal round of consultation for the EA/IA will start with the provincial Notice of Commencement of the Environmental Assessment.
Study Plans and workplans are part of both the IA and EA processes. The CAR Project Team and AECOM have developed Study Plans with feedback from federal experts and, preliminary feedback from provincial experts. Engagement on Study Plans will happen soon after EA commencement.
Indigenous Knowledge Study
Early in 2021, we reached out to communities with an updated Study Area memo showing where the regional study area expanded, and our Indigenous Knowledge Guidance Document that provides tools, resources, and expected outcomes for the indigenous knowledge program. Initially, we asked for draft reports to be completed by March 2021. However, that timeline is now extended to allow communities more time to complete studies under pandemic conditions. Currently we are reaching out to First Nations that have expressed interest in the Indigenous Knowledge Study Program to setup data sharing and proponent funding agreements that support this work.
It is common practice for proponents to start data collection programs in the field before the official start of an environmental assessment. This is done because certain studies must be done over multiple years or, need to be completed at specific times during the year. Although not uncommon to do, there is a risk of having to go back to collect more data when you begin studies ahead of the start of an environmental assessment.
An example of a field program with a specific timing-window is the caribou collaring field program that was completed in February 2021. The CAR Project Team and AECOM met with regulators to seek guidance on work that must be done according to survey protocols to study caribou. Caribou are a species at risk and special permits and conditions need to be met to study them. The caribou collaring program is only a piece of a larger study plan. Big Horn Helicopters’ highly specialized caribou capture crew shared photos and description of how the work is done.
Caribou Capture Program
Photos provided by Bighorn Helicopters
From the air, a net is released over the caribou. The capture crew can be seen organizing the net in the background of photo to the right. After the helicopter lands, the capture crew puts hobbles around the legs to restrain the caribou’s movement and a blindfold over her eyes to reduce stress. The capture crew works quickly to take body measurements, collect hair and fecal (poop) samples, and attach a GPS radio collar around the female caribou’s neck.
From a distance the capture crew lets the caribou get up on her own and watches as she leaves and returns to her group to make sure she is walking steadily and to make sure there are no signs of injury or abnormal behaviour. Hair and fecal samples were transferred to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for their ongoing caribou research program.
Air Quality Program
The purpose of the program is to characterize current air quality conditions in the project area. An air monitoring device housed in a trailer was transported into Marten Falls by winter road this year. The air monitoring device will collect information on weather conditions, dust and other fine particles and on exhaust from vehicles, helicopters, planes, generating station and other industrial sources that may be carried into the area by weather patterns for a period of one year.
Two or three paid part-time Air Quality Monitor positions for individuals living in community have been advertised. Air monitors will be responsible for performing field activities and maintenance of air quality monitoring equipment – a critical role in the success of the air quality monitoring program for the CAR Project.
Air monitors will be compensated for four hours per week at $25/hour for the duration of the program. The applicant must have reliable access to internet for email communications and transportation for sample shipments and must attend training sessions. To apply or for more information contact Larissa Mikkelsen by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or, by phone and leave a message at 1-800-764-9114.
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