Water license for historic Keno Hill mining district under public review – Yukon News

The water permit application for Yukon’s historic Keno Hill mining district, which has been in the works for 15 years and cost the federal government $34 million to develop, is up for public review.

The public consultation period will last 30 days. The Yukon public is invited to review and comment on a stack of reports measuring 38 centimeters high. Public hearings will only take place if there is sufficient public interest.

Keno City residents received an advance copy for their library before Christmas and were briefed by officials from Elsa Reclamation and Development (ERDC) and the other half of Alexco’s corporate structure, Alexco Keno Hill Mining Corp. (AKHM).

Residents of Keno were able to go to their little church that doubles as a library, light a fire in the stove, read and add bright orange stickies to different pages in the pile, but the Mayo Library doesn’t have a hard copy. .

Anyone can find the app through the Yukon Water Board, by searching for QZ21-012, then clicking on one of the 32 PDF files. There are 15 other links to relevant historical documents related to the app.

For longtime followers of water board applications, the process is transparent and accessible, if a bit cumbersome and incredibly technical. For example, water quality objectives are described in milligrams per liter of zinc, cadmium or arsenic. The measurements are marked with dots on pages of graphs, rather than saying whether the water is safe to drink or not, or whether the fish could survive uncontaminated.

The Yukon Water Board hired Hemmera, a large Australian consulting firm with an office in Whitehorse, to help them understand and assess documents for Board members. Humarra also works for several mining companies in the Yukon and for a wide variety of YG departments. The public must decipher the documents themselves.

The reclamation plan has been in development for 15 years and involves a complex set of relationships between the federal government (financial responsibility and technical reviews), the Yukon government (inspection responsibility and new mines in place) , the Na-cho Nyak Dun First Nation (this is their traditional territory and they have a major advisory role), as well as the two branches of Alexeco Resources – ERDC and AKHM.

It will be up to the ERDC and the AKHM to sort out the historic sites from the current and future operating sites. This license only applies to historic mining sites in the district.

Linda Broughton, vice-president of ERDC, says that essentially they act as a contractor for the federal government. Production Manager Wayne Zigarlick, vice president of operations, told the News in October that the two parts of the company share personnel, creating efficiencies for both parts of the company.

READ MORE: Alexco works to fix image at mine site near Keno town

This is likely the first of several operations that are clearly purchased and designed in such a way that abandoned mine sites are remediated while the operator simultaneously exploits new properties in the area. The government believes this makes abandoned mines more attractive to sell and reduces cleanup costs for taxpayers.

In November 2021, Martin Guilbeault of the federal Department of Environment Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs (CIRNAC) said that the federal government had spent $30 million since 2001 on upkeep and maintenance of the district. of Keno and $34 million for the reclamation design. plan.

He said that factors such as the size and extent of the area (17,000 hectares), the difficulties in characterizing the various galleries and shafts, the buildings, the piles of waste and tailings, as well as the identification of heritage buildings and setting benchmarks to measure improvements all make the process costly and time consuming.

Alexco is also running out of clock on its existing water license which expires August 8, 2022.

This water permit application will replace the current water permit for “care and maintenance” and will cover the next fifteen years of active reclamation, then another ten years of transition, and then, 16 years later, will operate for life. This request is considered a renewal for the next 20 years.

Pile of reports for the water permit application for public review until February 23, 2022. (submitted photo)

Goals on a slippery slope

When the mine was first acquired by ERDC in 2006, the promise made to the Yukon Supreme Court was for ultimate remediation. Now the plans call for lifelong treatment.

In 2008, members of Na-cho Nyak Dun (NND) discussed their main objectives for the closure, which included phrases such as “protect the land and animals” and “restore the environment”. They described spawning grounds, where people and animals are free to roam safely and ensure there is clean water. They listed animals and fish by name and identified the importance of protecting people’s health.

These goals were grouped and reorganized by government and business in the final goal definition, so that “protect and restore” meant “prevent, minimize or mitigate”.and side effects. The federal government and YG have introduced other goals: minimizing project liability and risk, and minimizing costs.

Seventh on NND’s list was that the project provides benefits to NND and its citizens.

Thirteen years later, Guilbeault of CIRNAC told the News that the main objectives were to minimize costs and maximize socio-economic benefits.

Water treatment in the North has not changed much over the years due to a lack of research data on more innovative methods. The main water treatment system will rely on catchments near leaky access galleries to collect water from the old mines, then transport it through heated pipes, to one (instead of five) settling pond where it will be treated, then periodically, the zinc-laden sludge will be discharged.

It’s a mammoth project, complicated by historic mining practices, permafrost, extinct species, and the fact that land healing will occur in the middle of an active mining district. Some galleries will be blocked, waste rock buried, historic buildings stabilized and fences will be erected to keep away and protect the curious.

The Yukon Water Board currently has 38 applications in the traditional territory of the Na-cho Nyak Dun. A period of public review began on Victoria Gold’s amendment to its closure plan and water license just days before Alexco’s public process began. The review period ends February 23 for ERDC/Alexco and February 21 for Victoria Gold.

Contact Lawrie Crawford at [email protected]

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