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Yukon Faces Renewed Mining Problems

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

On March 18-19, MiningWatch Canada facilitated a meeting in Whitehorse to assess resources and capacity in the Yukon to work on mining, prioritize issues, expand working relationships and work on strategies. Invitees included a number of individuals and representatives of local organizations.

  1. ensuring that the proposed placer mining regime is consistent with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ legal responsibilities to protect fish and fish habitat;
  2. effective reclamation of closed hard rock mines;
  3. Threats and opportunities presented by the development of regulations for mining under the new Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act (YESAA) and the proposed Mine Reclamation Policy;
  4. Proposed new mines in the Yukon.

Proposed Placer Mining Regime

The proposed new Placer mining regime is expected to be based on watershed assessments and classifications from important to non-fish habitat. A “watershed analysis” will document the Valued Components in each watershed, including fish and gold, and a list of “Best Practices” for placer mining will be developed. A set of limits for suspended solids for the watershed will be set. Authorisations under the Fisheries Act will then be issued without any Environmental Assessment as long as the total limits for the watershed are not exceeded by the placer application, and as long as the company commits to “best practices”.

A number of serious questions were raised by the meeting. Will the limits that are set be low enough really to protect the health of all fish in the watershed? Will they protect all stages of fish life? How will Best Practices be determined? Will they drive improved technology? What kind of monitoring and enforcement will be in place? What kind of public consultation is planned on the proposed regime when it is released?

Abandoned Mines in the Yukon

There are seven really significant “Type II” abandoned mine sites in the Yukon. Some of them are mired in ownership questions which have to be resolved before the final decommissioning can take place. The seven are: United Keno Hill, Clinton Creek, Mt. Nansen, Faro, Ketza, Sa Dena Hess and Brewery Creek.

With the exception of Brewery Creek, these sites had inadequate reclamation bonds and cleanup will depend on the federal government Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan (FCSAP). The Brewery Creek Mine is in the process of decommissioning, and the Yukon government has already returned a portion of their reclamation bond. Three of these mines are:

United Keno Hill. This silver property with over nine different mines came under the management of the Yukon government when its most recent owner - United Keno Hill Mines - went bankrupt. The mine had operated from 1921-1982. When the price of silver plummeted world wide, the mine then operated sporadically with many different owners, and stock plays. It is for sale by the court-appointed receiver. The federal government has severed the environmental liability from the site, although any new owners would be required to manage it.

Clinton Creek Mine. The Clinton Creek asbestos mine was operated by the Cassiar Asbestos Corporation Limited from October 1967 until August of 1978. The mine has three open pits, located on the south side of Clinton Creek. There are 60 million tonnes of waste rock which have blocked Clinton Creek and formed Hudgeon Lake. During its short life, the mill discharged 10 million tonnes of tailings to the Wolverine Creek valley. The tailings dumps have since failed and formed two lobes, blocking the flow of Wolverine Creek. The creeks have eroded both the tailings piles and waste rock, and the fish habitat of upper Clinton Creek and Wolverine Creek were destroyed. The federal FCSAP has paid for gabion (mesh cage) beds to stabilize the waste rock piles and allow water flows to resume in the creek. It will costs $17-35 million to properly reclaim.

Mt. Nansen/BYG Mine. Hugely promoted by the mining industry when it opened in 1996, this gold mine closed in 1997 because it was unable to meet the terms of its water licence. A Territorial Court judge later found that the actions of the company “demonstrate and attitude consistent with the raping and pillaging of resources in the Yukon”. Arsenic, cyanide, lead and other toxins were contaminating Dome Creek. It costs the federal government almost $2 million a year to maintain the site, and plans are now underway to spend the $7 million it will cost to actually reclaim it. The company is in bankruptcy proceedings. The mine is on the land of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation.

Threatening New Mines in the Yukon

Two new mining projects threaten the traditional livelihoods of Yukon First Nations:

Carmacks Copper Mine. Nine years ago, the company which owns this mine – now called Western Silver – aborted an Environmental Assessment when it failed to file required information. Now hoping to resume the same EA, the company wants to set up a open pit, sulphuric acid heap leach mine, which will have a mine life of eight years. The mine is only feasible at copper prices over $.80 US a pound. The grade of the ore is very low (1.01%) and will create waste rock and tailings in excess of 100 times the volume of ore extracted.

Wolverine Mine. Located in Kaska Dene Territory, this proposed underground lead, zinc mine is owned by junior Yukon Zinc. It is near the closed Kudz Ze Kayah Mine. The company is seeking a water licence, but the selenium content of the ore is such that it may be impossible to find a smelter to take it.

There are also concerns about the safety of other proposed mines: Dublin Gulch, Minto and Skookum Gold.