Yukon News

Faro mine’s remediation mess

Roxanne Stasyszyn Friday August 3, 2012

Jeremy Warren/Yukon News

P2faro

The lead-zinc mine in Faro, once the world's largest, closed in 1998.

The Yukon’s Kaska nations say the territorial government is mismanaging one of the biggest projects it has ever tackled.

The Faro mine was not only the biggest lead-zinc mine in the Yukon, Canada and even the world at one point, it also became one of the biggest environmental disasters.

When the mine finally closed in 1998, it had been processing lead and zinc ore for more than three decades.

With devolution, managing the cleanup of the mine became the responsibility of the Yukon government, while Ottawa is still obligated to pay the bills.

But the Kaska are demanding that arrangement be reversed.

The Ross River Dena Council and the Liard First Nation, which make up the Yukon’s Kaska, want the federal government to take back management of the cleanup in hopes they will be better accommodated and have more authority over the project.

“Both the territory and Canada say that we’re equal partners but they come up with models where we’re just rubber stamps,” said Alex Morrison, general manager of the Liard First Nation Development Corporation. “Not to have any First Nation involvement in a project like this is ludicrous.”

Things have gotten worse since the territory took over in 2009, said Morrison.

Not only are the First Nations devoid of any actual authority over the project, but local companies are being pushed aside for those Outside, he claimed.

Even the territory’s own numbers show a decrease in Yukon involvement.

In 2010, Pelly Construction was awarded a $13-million contract, which meant 571 members of the affected First Nations were employed, $2 million in subcontracts were awarded locally and more than $250,000 was put toward local training, according to Stephen Mead, director of the remediation project with the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.

But in 2011, the main contract, worth $20 million over five years, was awarded to CH2M Hill, which is a Canadian company with 10 offices across the country, including one in Whitehorse.

And in February 2012, Tli Cho Engineering and Environmental Services from Yellowknife was awarded a three-year, $30.1-million contract for the maintenance and care of the site.

CH2M Hill is a world leader in this type of work, according to the department.

Meaning the territory feels they went with the best guys, not necessarily the local guys.

But Morrison sees this project as a way to make the best guys and the local guys the same thing.

“It will be a thirty-year project and they plan on spending $200 to $300 million a year,” said Morrison. “It’s going to be a billion-dollar project.”

The point that should not be taken for granted is that this mine was put in at the expense of the First Nations, said chief of the Ross River Dena Council, Jack Caesar.

“People had to move out of there for the mine to happen,” he said. “All through that area was totally used by the First Nations. Game was plentiful and they harvested it for summer and winter needs, along with the salmon that come up the river there. It was year-round activities, like trapping, and it was used to its fullest by the families.”

The lead-zinc deposit was originally discovered by Ross River Dena Council members and when the mine was in production, very few of the First Nations’ citizens were trained or employed, and the aboriginal government saw very little benefit from the mine throughout its entire life from the early 1960s until it closed in 1998, said Caesar.

All the while, that land could no longer be used for traditional hunting, trapping and fishing for the First Nation.

Even today it is used, “very little, if at all,” said Caesar.

The federal government and the territory have agreed to work with both Kaska nations as well as the Selkirk First Nation, which is immediately downstream of the mine site.

But in reality, the First Nations have no real say in the project, said Gerry Kerr, the technical adviser for the Ross River Dena Council.

When Canada was managing the project, it committed to aboriginal procurement laws, meaning the affected First Nations received preferential treatment for contracts, jobs and training, he said.

When the territory took over, it didn’t agree to follow those laws, Kerr added.

And the three seats (one per First Nation) at the table given to the Kaska and Selkirk don’t come with any decision-making authority, he said.

Those seats are “just check marks,” said Kerr, explaining that the “community co-ordinators” are mandated to answer to the territory, not to the First Nations.

The Kaska have refused the money for their two seats for this coming year because of that fact, said Kerr.

In turn, the Kaska offered a plan to the territory and Canada in March with a better way to move forward.

Neither government has responded yet, said Kerr.

The only comment the territory offered when asked about the issue was to say that it recognizes the frustration and looks forward to working with the Kaska in the future.

When asked whether Canada would consider taking back management of the project, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development said it is working with the territory and the First Nations and wants to continue to do so.

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6 Comments

concerned wrote:
10:06pm Monday August 6, 2012

this article was about nothing!!! Its the same thing every 2 weeks one of the kaskas are whining their not getting enough or their getting ripped off! Selkirk FN is more invovled with the Faro Mine Decommissioning than Ross where were they in this article? This is my opinon Don’t interfere it could be still sitting there being a scar on our land but the governemnt has agreed to take it on to do this. DON"T PESTER THEM let them be and let the clean up go unhindered. Just get it done for our children of tomorrow and leave the money out of this

faro at the table wrote:
3:11pm Monday August 6, 2012

It’s all damned good that the First Nation want a piece of the pie. But Faro has made multiple requests to sit at the table with the industry in the past couple of years.
To no avail, Faro doesn’t have a First Nation so no one is obligated to them. The reclamation could not happen without the community of Faro to support it in the rendition of services. It has done so on it’s own merit since the mine closed. When will Faro be accepted as an equal partner?

brian wrote:
3:10am Sunday August 5, 2012

Bill… The environmental disaster that took place was caused by a short cut the mine operators did when they chose to strip off the low grade ore and go straight for the high grade ore. When that was done the low grade ore was exposed and not processed and now that it’s exposed it creates toxic water when it rains and enters then ecosystem.

Bill wrote:
6:02am Saturday August 4, 2012

For the life of me I can not see the environmental disaster here, all I here is how some other interest wants a pay check.

RALPH wrote:
10:40pm Friday August 3, 2012

just watched a episode of the Soprano’s last night.got a good idea,throw them a half a dozen no show jobs.but make them buy the lawn chairs and sun screen.

same old thing wrote:
9:35pm Friday August 3, 2012

I’m tired of this rhetoric.  Who are we kidding…as a generalization, the FN’s have very limited skills or capacity to contribute to this project (in the immediate to near future). 

Suffering with so many social problems, how do we expect them to take on this kind of a task?  And I’m not talking about the ‘soft’ tasks of providing laborers or even the odd technically sound person (of which they have very very limited numbers).  I’m talking about the big stuff…the stuff they had to go “outside” to get.

Them ‘getting involved’ or ‘having a say’ would mean they just hire more consultants to represent them.  At the end of the day everyone agrees on the technical decisions/issues. All this simply equals more wasted time and money.

Are we trying to clean up an environmental disaster in the next 32 years or are we trying to solve deeply entrenched FN social issues that are going to take generations to resolve? I’m not saying this project shouldn’t provide a serious injection of economic wealth into the FN communities of the area to help them on this road to recovery, but lets be realistic here!

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