Vale Inco has won the right to be heard at a court case on tailings ponds rules, but the environmental group behind the challenge is claiming a success of its own.

A Federal Court judge recently handed down a 23-page decision, granting Vale (as well as the Mining Association of Canada and the Mining Association of British Columbia) limited intervener status in the challenge to scrap the legislation that allows mining companies to dump tailings in natural lakes.

Although Vale and the mining lobby organizations who fought to become part of the case have been granted party status, there are many restrictions on how they can intervene in the case. Among other limitations, the decision defines the issues they are allowed to make arguments and present evidence on.

“It’s cheaper for mining companies to destroy pristine water bodies and to make tailings ponds for their own toxins that they create.”—Bill Montevecchi

That’s good news to the Sandy Pond Alliance to Protect Canadian Waters, which issued the challenge last year. The group is calling the decision a setback in Vale’s attempt to use Sandy Pond for mining waste at its $2-billion hydromet nickel processing plant in Long Harbour.

“Justice Heneghan’s decision essentially gives a strong ‘no’ to the broad participatory powers sought by the interveners as proposed in their submissions,” said Sandy Pond Alliance lawyer Owen Myers. “The alliance is concerned that Vale’s request for full intervener status would have the effect of dragging out the case extensively thus driving up costs and making it prohibitive for the volunteer, non-profit citizen’s group to pursue the legal challenge.”

“Right now we’re feeling good because we’ve kind of got them check-mated a bit, but it’s going to be a long process,” said Bill Montevecchi, Sandy Pond Alliance director.

The decision said Vale can ask the judge to entertain a motion to grant them the right to appeal the final judgment. In September, Vale said one of the reasons it wants the right to appeal is that it would require millons to find an alternative to Sandy Pond. A call to Vale’s St. John’s office was not immediately returned.

Both the federal and provincial governments, however, have already given approval for Vale Inco to dump waste into the pond. Parts of the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations section of the Fisheries Act makes it possible for federal authorities to reclassify bodies of water into tailings impoundment areas at mining companies’ request. The reclassification means the waters are no longer protected by the Fisheries Act.

“It’s cheaper for mining companies to destroy pristine water bodies and to make tailings ponds for their own toxins that they create. And that’s what they’re going to do,” Montevecchi said. “Our objective is to strike down that law which allows them to do that because it’s wrong.”