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arsenic drums
Arsenic stored in drums at Giant mine site (photo courtesy Kevin O'Reilly)

Royal Oak's Nasty Legacies: Colomac and Giant Mine Updates

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

The Colomac gold mine, on Dogrib territory, was shut down in 1997, then abandoned by Royal Oak and transferred to the Federal government on December 13, 1999. Under its Water Licence, the company had posted a $1.5 million security deposit. At present it is on "care & maintenance" and awaiting clean-up. The mine tailings have a very high cyanide and ammonia content and a serious acid mine drainage problem, which getting worse, as well as other contaminants and waste on site. The eventual clean-up may cost more than $70 million.

The mine is located at Indian Lake which provides drinking water for 200 residents.

The Dogribs say that the tailings pond will overflow in May, unless immediate drastic measures are taken. In early March a public hearing was held to cancel the Royal Oak water licence so that a new one can be issued and clean-up can begin. The Dogribs feel this tortuous legislative process may delay clean-up until it is too late.

In November, 1999, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) awarded a one-year, $2-million contract to a consortium of aboriginal businesses from DetonÇho Corporation, the Dogrib Rae Band and the North Slave Metis Alliance to undertake final reclamation activities at the Colomac Mine. The consortium conducted studies into contamination and took responsibility for on-going environmental monitoring and maintenance of the site.

After the contract was awarded, Royal Oak was finally charged under the Water Act and the Fisheries Act for the pollution it caused — much too late, since the company was already in receivership.

Now, the water licence has not been changed, the money needed to clean-up the site is not forthcoming, and the Dogribs are faced with a potential catastrophe if the tailings pond overflows. Says Dogrib leader Ted Blondin: "I think there is a fiduciary responsibility that the federal government has to looking after the Dogrib interests, and these are the arguments that we will use towards ensuring that the quality of water and the work that has to be done for the cleanup is done."

Giant Mine

DIAND recently made a presentation to Yellowknife City Council about the arsenic trioxide mess at Giant. It is estimated that it will cost more than $275 million to clean up the 270,000 tons of arsenic trioxide, and millions more to clean the surface contamination (at the north-west tailings pond, Back Bay and elsewhere). The sites are all leaking contaminants.

An appropriate method to clean up the arsenic has yet to be found, although solutions from bioremediation (lichen and ferns) to vitrification are being considered. The federal government has also attempted to lower the costs of clean-up by selling contaminated land to the City for a marina, and by raising the allowable arsenic levels based on "background levels of arsenic of 150 ppm."

Although the DIAND regional office requested $8.8 million towards cleanup of the two sites last year, they only received $3 million. In December, they got another $1.3 million.