Geologists survey the proposed Coffee mine site in 2011. YESAB has discontinued its assessment of the project, saying Goldcorp did not properly consult with First Nations. (Courtesy Kaminak Gold Corporation)

YESAB says Goldcorp failed to consult First Nations, halts Coffee mine assessment

‘They just came in and completely failed to read the local landscape,’ evironmentalist says

The Yukon Environmental Socio-Economic Assessment Board has discontinued its assessment of the proposed Coffee gold mine on the grounds that Goldcorp did not adequately consult with the affected First Nations governments.

“Having carefully reviewed the information in Goldcorp’s proposal as well as the comments provided by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Selkirk First Nation, the executive committee is of the opinion that Goldcorp has not met its obligation to consult in relation to those First Nations and the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun,” YESAB’s executive committee wrote in its report, issued July 12.

“The only aspect we’re looking at is the consultation record…. They (Goldcorp) are missing pieces of it,” said Rob Yeomans, a spokesperson for YESAB.

Goldcorp appears to have tried to rush through the consultation process in an effort to meet what mine general manager Buddy Crill referred to as an “aggressive” March 31 assessment deadline.

The report says Goldcorp didn’t give TH enough time to respond to technical documents. On Feb. 23, for example, Goldcorp provided assessment documents to TH and set a deadline for feedback by March 8.

“Goldcorp did not meet its obligation to consult with Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in that it did not provide TH with notice of the mine design changes in sufficient form and detail, did not give TH a reasonable period of time to prepare its views nor an opportunity to present its views on those changes,” YESAB wrote.

These design changes would reduce the number of waste rock facilities from three to one, a change that was made in response to “Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in concerns over water quality,” he said.

“To say we weren’t listening to First Nations and their concerns is simply not true,” Crill said. “We made a huge adjustment (to the proposal) … which put us in a position where our management and our engineers were scrambling.”

Crill acknowledged the fast tracked deadline “did push the First Nations.” He said Goldcorp continued the consultation process after meeting the March 31 submission deadline.

TH wrote in a May 4 letter to YESAB that Goldcorp provided them with an incomplete proposal. The letter also highlights multiple issues, including failure to respond to information requests and insufficient time for review.

In a sudden reversal, however, TH submitted a letter July 12 which states that since their initial letters were submitted, the First Nation and Goldcorp “have been working closely to respond to the concerns set out in that letter and to establish a way forward in the environmental assessment process.”

“In light of this, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in has no objections to the proposal proceeding to screening phase,” the letter reads, adding that this support is conditional in having their concerns addressed “in a meaningful way” by Goldcorp.

Reached by phone July 13, TH Chief Roberta Joseph declined to comment.

YESAB pointed out similar issues in the consultation process with Selkirk First Nation. It also stated Goldcorp had completely failed to consult with the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun and that “consultation with the NND did not occur in any substantive manner prior to submission.”

No one from the NND was available to speak with the News by press time Friday. Calls to the Selkirk First Nation were not returned.

Additionally, on June 20, White River First Nation submitted several letters to YESAB and Goldcorp during the screening process, including a scathing 58 page letter including multiple “tables of inadequacies” regarding the consultation process with Goldcorp. The WRFN said it was not consulted at all during the process.

“As you are aware, we met with you on May 17, 2017, regarding Goldcorp’s submission of the Coffee Creek project proposal. At that meeting, we specifically asked you if the White River First Nation would be treated in the same way as other First Nations whose rights/interests stand to be adversely affected by the project proposal, for the purposes of YESAA. As we understood it, your response was, effectively, ‘no,’” reads a letter submitted by the First Nation May 23.

In their proposal, Goldcorp does not list that White River First Nation must be consulted on potential impacts.

Calls to WRFN were not returned by press time.

These reactions from First Nations contrast with the good relations that existed when Kaminak Gold, the junior mining company that initially developed Coffee, owned the project. Goldcorp bought Kaminak — and the Coffee project — in July 2016.

“The record demonstrates that there were an extensive number of meetings between Kaminak and TH beginning in 2009. Kaminak and TH came to an understanding on how the consultation process between them would unfold and this was established early in the process,” YESAB said in its report. “This process changed following acquisition of Kaminak.”

“When Kaminak was in charge, people were saying, ‘my god this is how you do consultation,’” said Lewis Rifkind, a mining analyst for the Yukon Conservation Society. “Goldcorp comes along and buys Kaminak and now we’re in this trainwreck of an application process…. How did they mess this up?

“It’s not so much the technical issues, this is something different. Goldcorp completely misunderstood the need for consultation. Maybe they just came in and completely failed to read the local landscape. They’ve dropped the ball.”

The discontinuation of the assessment came as “a bit of a surprise,” to Crill, who said he felt the relationship between Goldcorp and First Nations was “good.”

What exactly this means for the proposal submission process is not yet clear. YESAB will have to sit down and work that out with Goldcorp, said Yeomans, the board spokesperson. However, this can only occur once Goldcorp “has been shown to meet the consultation requirements.”

Crill said Goldcorp views the current situation as “a pause, not a resubmission.”

Rifkind said the decision shows YESAB is taking its role seriously.

“It’s not as if either party has pulled out,” he said. “There’s just this issue raised and out of left field, YESAB says it’s discontinued… If they (Goldcorp) have to apply again, it’s going to be a long process.”

Contact Lori Garrison at lori.garrison@yukon-news.com

This story has been edited to correct the spelling of Rob Yeomans’ name. The subhead has been been edited to clarify that the quote does not come from YESAB.

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