Yukon News

Faro mine remediation plans take shape

Ashley Joannou Monday June 12, 2017

Joel Krahn/Yukon News

faro.jpg

Public consultation meetings have been scheduled for June to discuss the future of the abandoned Faro mine site.

After nearly two decades of caring for the abandoned Faro mine site, the federal and territorial governments are getting closer to coming up with a remediation plan.

Starting this month, the Yukon government is scheduling public consultation meetings in communities around the territory to talk about the future of the site.

The meetings are a required step before the both governments can submit a remediation plan to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board next year, said Dustin Rainey, the Yukon government’s senior project manager.

Once the largest open-pit lead-zinc mine in the world, the Faro mine was abandoned in 1998 leaving behind 70 million tonnes of tailings and 320 million tonnes of waste rock, which have the potential to leach heavy metals and acid into the surrounding land and water, according to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

Various government departments have been maintaining the site since its closure.

“Care and maintenance, in the Faro sense, is its own industry unto itself,” Rainey said.

The mine site still employs dozens of people. The water treated there is about equivalent to the amount of water the City of Whitehorse uses every year, he said.

While work to date has focused primarily on the water, the remediation plan will include work on the contaminated land.

Instead of moving the contaminated land around, they’ve decided to go with a “stabilize in place” approach, Rainey said.

Any of the dams currently in place will be upgraded. The waste rock piles “will be re-sloped (and) flattened, to make sure that they’re more stable,” he said. The piles will then be covered “to isolate that mine waste from the atmosphere and the environment.”

More details about what the land will look like and what it could be used for will be available once the plan is submitted to the assessment board next year.

No matter how much work is done to clean up the Faro site, it doesn’t appear government will be able to wash its hands of the project completely.

Rainey said there will always have to be someone monitoring the water. As well, the huge pit, which is more than a square kilometre in size, is never going to be filled in, he said.

“There always will likely be places that are just unsafe for people to access on the site and we’ll have to control that just to protect people’s own health and safety.”

The fact that the site may need to be cared for “forever” concerns Lewis Rifkind with the Yukon Conservation Society.

“Who’s going to pay for this? Are we going to pay for it forever?” he said.

“Every dollar we spend on water treatment on this mine site is a dollar less for schools, hospitals, roads and — it’s unusual for YCS to say this — it’s a dollar less for investing in other economic development opportunities.”

The federal government pays the bills for the work at the mine site. The territorial government is in charge of most on-site management.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada estimates it has spent $350 million on the site since 1998. That includes $150 million on care and maintenance.

There’s no word on how much the department plans to spend on remediation and future monitoring. No one from INAC was available to comment for this story.

Rifkind said he’s glad the plan is heading towards the Yukon assessment board because that will mean more transparency.

“As soon as you start putting stuff into YESAB and into the water board, a lot of documentation is available and you get a chance to ask questions.”

There are still concerns about what is on the site and what is flowing off, he said.

Since about 2013 high levels of zinc have been seeping out into the north fork of Rose Creek which flows past the site. The numbers continue to be high during the winter, Rainey said.

“As the waste rock dumps get older, it is expected that seepage will increase, which will damage water quality and impact fish and their habitat. Environment and Climate Change Canada has called for immediate attention to this issue,” according to federal government documents.

According to the documents the plan is to realign the creek to try and separate the mine’s water from the ground water for treatment. That’s scheduled for 2018.

Actual remediation isn’t expected to start until 2022 once the assessment board has approved a plan and the government gets a water licence.

Community meetings about remediation have been scheduled for Ross River on June 19 and Faro on June 20. More meetings will be happening in Pelly Crossing, Watson Lake, Carmacks and Whitehorse according to the territorial Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. Those meetings haven’t been scheduled yet.

The Town of Faro has seen a dramatic drop in population since the mine closed.

Chief Administrative Officer Ian Dunlop said the remediation plans could benefit Faro’s economy.

“It sounds like there could be over 100, possibly 150, workers that would be involved in that over a long term of about 15 years or so. So that would definitely bring a lot of economic stability to the town.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

8 Comments

YukonMax wrote:
8:27am Saturday June 24, 2017

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but since the Bands in Ross River and Watson Lake have just communicated their desire to go after a chunk of the annual reclamation money, very little will be left for whatever needs to be done. So, yes Faro will be around for over 100 years to come but the Town of Faro will have to become very crafty if it wants to survive without financial support beyond transfer payments.

ProScience Greenie wrote:
12:02pm Wednesday June 14, 2017

Carbon neutral - nothing against Rifkind who is a sharp guy. He is simply doing the job he was hired for by YCS. It is just that they push the bad miner thing only. They need to be swinging the hammer just as hard over the gravy train side of things. It’s a wasteful mess that needs to be cleaned up. While we badly need more fiscal audits on all things government, we also need to start looking at implementing energy/GHG audits on how things are done if we want to become more green. Expect resistance as that will hurt the bottom line of the senior bureaucratic / consultant mini-empires dependent on that sweet gravy train. Good on YCS if they start doing this.

Ian Dunlop is right ... wrote:
11:43am Wednesday June 14, 2017

As strange as it sounds, remediation of the mine will be a boon to Faro’s economy. Good for them! Now if they can just find a way to get tourists up there to what was once the world’s biggest lead zinc mine then they’d be in business. You can do it Faro!

Carbon neutral wrote:
10:39am Wednesday June 14, 2017

@ProScience Greenie, What’s with bringing Lewis Rifkind into this. From what I can see, he’s the one who brought this into the light, pointing out the lack of transparency and progress on this, including what it costs. I thought it was all ticking along, till he did. Wasn’t there a whole department dedicated to the reclamation project? What were they doing? What happened? Where did they go? The website vanished. It was Lewis that noticed. Not that I intended to turn this post all about Lewis Rifkind, but the guy’s a genius at analyzing these things, and he does indeed, cover all the bases, including raising the issue of companies evading their responsibilities and taxpayers being on the hook. Of all the targets to choose, he’s the one who is blameless here. Everything you imply about his motives is false.

I agree the media’s ignorance is frustrating here. The department appears to have been able to fold their tents and slip quietly away years ago without being noticed. So thank you, Lewis.

Jonathan Colby wrote:
7:14am Wednesday June 14, 2017

Dear Wilf,
That’s not interesting at all. Don’t you have any other songs? All I ever hear is the same old 3.

“Yukon Party is Great”
“NDP and Liberals are bad,” and
“Facts facts facts”

Yeesh

ProScience Greenie wrote:
1:30pm Tuesday June 13, 2017

“Care and maintenance, in the Faro sense, is its own industry unto itself,” Rainey said.
————
Exactly as planned. It is a gravy train of Fed dollars and all involved want to keep it that way as long as they can milk it.

Some kind of detailed audit needs to be done on how and why the money to date was spent. The audit should also look at what exactly the top heavy bureaucracy and consultants have been doing each and every day for the last decade plus. Why so much bloat and duplication at that level? 

Rifkind and crew would impress the heck out of me if for once they took note of that. It’s a gravy train Lewis and not only could it cost less for taxpayers, that gravy train is spewing out a whole lot of GHGs that we do not want. Efficiency of both tax dollars and energy means asking tough questions to all players, you can’t pick and choose. Hold some feet to the fire instead of just using Faro as an ongoing anti-mining prop. Dealing with AGW is not about optics and tilting at windmills, it is about changing how we do things. Time to do what is right Lewis, not what looks right.

Everything about this project is just crying out for a keen investigative reporter, one not afraid to rock the boat, to put their ear to the ground and follow the money. The real Faro cleanup story is out there.

What is interesting wrote:
11:48am Tuesday June 13, 2017

is about this project was and the mess made while an NDP government was in power in the 1990’s.

Ray Cunningham wrote:
9:57am Tuesday June 13, 2017

I agree something should be done!

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