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Ottawa to clean-up old mines across North

Commits C$2.2B over 15 years to reclaiming Yukon, NWT sites

 

Last updated 8/30/2019 at 3:13am

Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program Crown Indigenous Relations

Mitchell Haynen

An ore car sits outside one of the historic mines in the Keno Hill Silver District, Yukon. Alexco Resources is working towards re-establishing a high-grade silver mine in the Keno Hill District and its subsidiary has submitted a reclamation plan for historical sites in this silver-rich area of the Yukon.

The Canadian government has dedicated C$2.2 billion to clean up contaminated mine sites in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.

The eight projects to be addressed with this investment are the historical Faro, United Keno Hill, Mount Nansen, Ketza River and Clinton Creek mines in the Yukon; and Giant, Cantung and Great Bear Lake mines in the Northwest Territories.

This new remediation effort, Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program, was introduced by the Honorable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, on Aug. 19.

The federal government prioritizes engagement with the Indigenous and northern communities impacted by each site and supports their access to the employment and business opportunities associated with its clean-up.

"Indigenous and Northern communities must be able to meaningfully participate in and benefit from the Government of Canada's investment in cleaning up northern contaminated sites," said Bennett. "The new Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program demonstrates the government of Canada's commitment to engage with Indigenous and northern communities and find approaches that benefit both the environment and the economy."

Ottawa has committed C$49.9 million per year starting in 2020–21 to fund the Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program, which will address the largest and highest-risk abandoned mines in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

At the end of this 15-year program, active remediation is expected to be complete at seven of the eight mine sites. However, all sites will likely require ongoing care and monitoring to ensure the remediation measures continue working as planned.

The remediation of the other smaller mines or contaminated sites in the North under the responsibility of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada will continue to be funded through Environment and Climate Change Canada's Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan.

Alexco helps at two YU sites

United Keno Hill Mines, a collection of over 50 historic mines in the Keno Hill Silver District, will likely be the first Yukon clean-up to get started under the Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program.

Located at Keno City and in the traditional territory of the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, United Keno Hill Mines was sold to Alexco Resource Corp. in 2006.

Alexco is currently working towards re-establishing a high-grade silver mine in the Keno Hill District and performs ongoing environmental care and maintenance with funding from the federal government.

Alexco Environmental Group, a subsidiary of Alexco that provides a range of professional environmental consulting services related to the mining industry, is uniquely qualified to remediate the site.

AEG has already submitted a reclamation plan for the historical sites in the Keno District to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board and the clean-up project is expected to have all regulatory authorizations in place in 2020.

Remediation of this historic silver mining district is expected to take four years, beginning in 2021.

Alexco is also involved with Mount Nansen, an abandoned Yukon gold-silver mine also slated for clean-up under the federal remediation program.

Located about 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Carmacks and within the traditional territory of the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation, Mount Nansen was previously operated by BYG Natural Resources Inc., which ceased mining and appointed a receiver who abandoned the property in 1999.

Following BYG's departure, federal and territorial governments took control of the site and began implementing care and maintenance operations at the abandoned mine.

In May, the federal government announced it has entered into a unique arrangement that allows Alexco and JDS Energy and Mining (Mount Nansen Remediation Limited Partnership) to pursue future work at the mine while obligating them to remediate contamination from past mining activities at the site.

"Collaboration has led to an effective sales process that will clean up the Mount Nansen Mine site and ensure Yukoners and the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation benefit from this important project," Bennett said in May. " Strong partnership is our greatest asset. We look forward to continuing our work together, moving the project forward to environmental assessment and then remediation."

It is expected that Alexco and JDS will obtain the water use license in 2022 and remediation activities are expected to begin in 2023. Following the expected completion of clean-up in 2025, the project will move into adaptive management in order to monitor the performance of the remediation work before proceeding to long-term monitoring.

Three more YU mines

Another three abandoned mines in the Yukon – Faro, Clinton Creek and Ketza River – are slated for clean-up under the Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program

Faro, once the largest open pit lead-zinc mine in the world, is also among the largest and most complex abandoned mine remediation projects in Canada.

Situated near the Yukon town of Faro, on the traditional territory of the Kaska Nation and upstream from Selkirk First Nation, the Faro Mine site covers about 25 square kilometers (10 square miles).

The Faro Mine churned out large quantities of lead and zinc from the late 1960s until 1982 and then intermittently until 1989 when Anvil Range Mining Company ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy. At its peak, the Faro Mine accounted for some 40 percent of Yukon's gross domestic product.

Processing the valuable minerals at the mine left behind 70 million metric tons of tailings and 320 million metric tons of waste rock, which has the potential to leach heavy metals and acid into the surrounding land and water.

The major remediation phase at Faro will begin once regulatory, environmental and socio-economic assessments are approved and is expected to take about 15 years to complete. As a result, this is the one mine that is not expected to be fully completed before the end of the Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program.

Until full remediation begins, specific risks at the Faro Mine site will continue to be addressed through pre-remediation works and a care and maintenance program that protects the environment and minimizes risks to human health and safety.

Clinton Creek is an abandoned asbestos mine located roughly 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Dawson City and in the traditional territory of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in.

Environmental care and maintenance activities at Clinton Creek are currently being carried out by the Yukon government with funding from Ottawa.

A conceptual remediation plan for the abandoned asbestos mine is slated for completion next spring and all regulatory authorizations are expected to be in place by 2025, which would mean that remediation at Clinton Creek should begin in 2026.

Ketza River is an abandoned gold and silver mine about 50 kilometers (31 miles) southeast of the community of Ross River, and in the traditional territory of the Ross River Dena Council, Liard First Nation, and Teslin Tlingit Council.

Ketza River went into production in the late 1980s but has not operated as a mine since 1990. The mine operator, Veris Gold, maintained the site until 2015. Since that time, the environmental care and maintenance activities have been carried out by the Yukon government with funding from Ottawa while remediation planning is underway.

The project remediation plan is expected to be completed in 2022, with the schedule of payments with Yukon Government to be negotiated by 2023.

This will define the schedule for remediation and will allow them to move forward with obtaining the required regulatory authorizations for the project and completing the remediation activities.

Three NWT mine sites

Just across the border, Cantung in Northwest Territories is another shuttered mine to be cleaned up under the Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program.

While located in NWT, this tungsten mine is accessed via the Nahanni Range Road from Watson Lake in southeastern Yukon.

North American Tungsten Corporation is the owner of Cantung mine and is responsible for the site. This mining company, however, has been under creditor protection since 2015 and a court-appointed monitor oversees site operations, which are funded by the federal government.

Under direction from the court-appointed Monitor, North American Tungsten continues to undertake care and maintenance activities at Cantung in order to meet its regulatory requirements. It is also advancing environmental site investigations to determine potential closure options for existing environmental liabilities at the site.

This work is being carried out in conjunction with federal officials and in consultation with Indigenous groups with asserted rights in the area.

Viable tungsten and copper reserves remain at the Cantung mine and the federal government is looking for a company to resume operations at the mine before the site is remediated and eventually closed.

The Giant Mine just outside of the NWT capital of Yellowknife, one of the longest-operating gold mines in Canada, is to get clean-up funding under the federal program.

The adjacent Giant and Con mines produced a combined 14.2 million ounces of gold from 1948 to 1999.

The federal government assumed responsibility for the site when the last owners of the Giant Mine went bankrupt and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada formed the Giant Mine Remediation project to clean up the site.

The biggest concern at Giant is 237,000 metric tons of arsenic trioxide stored in mined-out voids. The site requires ongoing management to protect the environment and human health and safety.

The Giant Mine Remediation Project team is hoping to gain permit approvals for site remediation next year and begin full clean-up of the historic gold mine in 2021. This clean-up is expected to take approximately 10 years.

The Giant Mine Remediation Project has developed and is implementing a socio-economic strategy to ensure Northerners and Indigenous persons are positioned to benefit from employment opportunities that result from the remediation, including by working with other organizations to support and build capacity in the North, such as access to relevant training to support work required at the site.

The Great Bear Lake Remediation Project consists of multiple smaller-scale mining and exploration properties on the east side of Great Bear Lake that are now abandoned and the responsibility of the federal government.

Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program Crown Indigenous Relations

WinterforceMedia

A headframe rises above the Giant gold mine on the outskirts of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. One of the longest-operating gold mines in Canada, Giant is among eight historical mines slated to be cleaned up under the Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program.

Due to their proximity to one another, the clean-up of these sites is being bundled under one project, reducing the impact to the environment and overall costs. The remediation components for the project will include the capping of tailings at multiple sites, treatment of contaminated soils, proper disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste, and removal of physical hazards from the site.

Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada has involved the community of Délı̨nę throughout this project by carrying out leadership and public meetings during the planning stages of the project, staffing a community liaison position, hiring individuals during field work and remediation activities for the project, and carrying out training activities for Délı̨nę residents.

Ottawa said it is committed to ongoing engagement with the Délı̨nę Got'ine government, which represents all members of the Délı̨nę community, including those that do not belong to the First Nation. The community liaison position and training and capacity building work will continue to take place in partnership with the Lands Division of the Délı̨nę Got'ine.

The remediation contract is anticipated for tender in the summer of 2021, and a five-year remediation period is anticipated to start the summer of 2022.

 

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