By Jason Warick
An offer by uranium giants Cameco Corp. and Areva could soon deliver jobs, cash payments and other benefits to the northern community of Pinehouse, but some residents worry it’s a thinly veiled attempt to buy their silence.
Gary Merasty, Cameco’s vice-president of corporate social responsibility, said “collaboration agreements” are being negotiated with Pinehouse and several other northern Saskatchewan communities. Merasty said the deals will formalize decades-long partnerships on jobs and other issues.
“We’re trying to update our relationship with northern communities,” Merasty said Monday.
But some Pinehouse residents point to several clauses in the draft agreement that would force Pinehouse to support the companies to regulators, investors and the public.
The agreement would prohibit Pinehouse from criticizing the companies now or in the future, a measure that amounts to an indefinite “gag order,” said Pinehouse resident Fred Peterson.
“I really don’t like this. I hope we can get it stopped,” Pederson said of the deal, which could be signed by the end of December.
Peterson and other residents fear the so-called gag order will extend beyond their elected officials. One clause obliges leaders to “make reasonable efforts to ensure Pinehouse members do not say or do anything that interferes with or delays Cameco/Areva’s mining.”
“They are trying to take away our voice as individuals and as a community,” said John Smerek, a resident of Pinehouse, a largely Metis and First Nations municipality of 1,000 people located about 400 kilometres north of Saskatoon.
According to the draft agreement, discussed earlier this month at a meeting in Pinehouse, Cameco and Areva would make one-time cash payments to a Pine-house community trust after the agreement is signed, after production begins at the Cigar Lake mine and after the construction of the Millennium mine begins.
The Cigar Lake mine, expected to be the world’s largest, is scheduled for initial production in 2013, with full production in 2017.
The Millennium mine project was expected to begin initial engineering this year.
The companies would also make annual payments to Pinehouse based on annual production levels.
Areva, Cameco and Pine-house officials declined to disclose financial details, although Merasty said payments might be similar to the $430,000 that Cameco has given Pinehouse in the past few years for a new arena, sidewalks and other projects.
Cameco would also provide jobs and training to Pinehouse residents and use Pinehouse businesses to supply the mines. Merasty noted Cameco has paid $26 million in salaries to Pinehouse residents since 2004 and has done $11 million in business with Pinehouse businesses in recent years.
Areva spokesperson Jarret Adams said the goal of such agreements is to build stable, long-term relationships with northern communities.
“We’re trying to make this arrangement more predictable,” Adams said.
“We really value the support of residents.”
Adams and Merasty said there will be no “gag order” on residents or leaders in Pinehouse.
Merasty said that the companies simply want to try to communicate more effectively and to address any concerns at the earliest possible stage.
“We would never ask to gag anybody,” Merasty said.
Pinehouse Mayor Mike Na-tomagan lauded the deal. He said he wasn’t worried about the clauses obligating him to support Cameco and Areva because they are good companies.
He said the companies are operating in the north anyway, so he needs to strike the best deal possible for his community.
“If we can find ways to both benefit, that’s a good thing. We’re breaking new ground here,” Natomagan said.
“We want our kids to have the same opportunity as the rest of the province.”
He said that the deal is not perfect, “but it’s better than welfare.”
AT A GLANCE
Highlights of the draft agreement between Pinehouse, Cameco Corp. and Areva:
. Cameco and Areva will make one-time and annual cash payments to the Pine-house Community Trust.
. Cameco and Areva will provide jobs and training to Pinehouse residents, and give supply contracts to Pine-house businesses.
. Pinehouse promises to “fully support” Cameco and Areva’s current, proposed and future projects in public, to investors, to regulators and with other groups. Pine-house leaders must make reasonable efforts to ensure community members “do not say or do anything that interferes with or delays” the companies’ operations.
. Pinehouse agrees to not make any future financial requests or claims against the companies.
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