Is Keno cursed?

Is Keno cursed? An open letter to any Yukoners that still care about this territory and the welfare of the residents who call it home: Just a brief update on the situation with Keno City and Alexco Resource Ltd. Now that the Bellekeno Mine Project has be

An open letter to any Yukoners that still care about this territory and the welfare of the residents who call it home:

Just a brief update on the situation with Keno City and Alexco Resource Ltd. Now that the Bellekeno Mine Project has been permitted by the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, we are getting our first glimpse at what this project will mean for us.

Recently, several Keno City residents accompanied Alexco representatives to view the proposed routing for the Keno City bypass road. This was a major mitigation endorsed by YESAB. During the course of this walk, the Alexco representative informed the Keno City residents that the section of the bypass actually going around the town would probably not be built until sometime in 2010, and that this would most likely necessitate driving ore trucks directly through town when the mining project begins.

Later that night, at a meeting with the community concerning communication, this information was presented with the subsequent strong and understandably negative reaction by members of the community present. After much discussion Alexco would only agree to build the bypass section “as soon as possible” in 2010.

During the course of this discussion the Alexco representative expressed the opinion that when the United Keno Hill Mine was in operation before, ore trucks used to travel through town and therefore there should be no problem with it.

This, of course, would be an accurate assessment if this was 1980. Unfortunately, it is 2009 and the opinion of what to expect from a mining company has changed. Only the Mayo YESAA assessor and Alexco feel that history overrides any consideration about the present.

While these mining companies are constantly professing their modern sensibilities, behind this thin veneer is the same old crap. (Witness the rush to dump waste water into the Yukon River Ð Minto mine’s Capstone Resources; Western Copper’s desire to put a heap leach in this same watershed with some question as to whether it can ever be detoxified; Alexco’s new “problem” with the bypass road.)

A small digression into the Minto mine story: If Capstone Resources knew that it would have to release water into the Yukon River next spring, due to the inadequacy of their treatment pond, why couldn’t they use the intervening timeframe to actually fix the problem? Could it be that they would have to spend money?

The community of Keno City also expressed concern during the environmental assessment about basing this review on projects that haven’t been built (the Pelly-Stewart Crossing Transmission Line connection and Mayo B). Now we are finding out that our fears about generator use near our town were well founded, despite the opinion to the contrary of Alexco and the YESAA assessor in Mayo.

It seems the construction of this mill project will be largely done with generators and there is the very real possibility that generators will have to be used to power parts of the mining project. What this means for our community is more noise 24/7, surprise, surprise. Of course, “Due to our history we should have known better,” (YESAA assessor, Mayo).

Finally we are learning how little the recommendations of YESAB actually mean in reality. Several studies were requested of Alexco “before” this project was to begin (noise and groundwater, to name two important ones). Well, the project has begun Ð preliminary groundwork is done and the cement pad for the mill is about to be poured, and still no studies. Maybe our definition of project start and Alexco’s are different.

This brings us to a point which I haven’t heard discussed by Yukoners, yet. Since devolution, the approximately 14,000 Yukon taxpayers are on the hook for any environmental bonding mistakes or miscalculations made by our government that exceed bonding requirements imposed by YTG on new mines in the territory. A study of these bonding requirements is being carried out by Energy, Mines and Resources, as we speak. Is anyone surprised that no one has heard anything about this study? This, from the department that worked tirelessly to conceal the Atco talks for seven months.

What makes me nervous, is that even moderate environmental damage by one of these new mines could result in a tax burden of millions of dollars over an extended number of years, all on the backs of a tax base smaller than most municipalities down south.

The answer, of course, is a “gold-plated,” transparent and neutral environmental assessment process followed up with rigorous and transparent enforcement of environmental regulations by our government.

Who here sees a problem with the way our current system of “develop-it-at-any-cost” works? We have an assessment process that was quite willing to sacrifice the welfare of a community for the temporary profit margin of a small Vancouver-based junior mining company.

We have an assessment process that was willing to accept the direct deposit of mine tailings on the ground with no barrier in between. We have a government disconnected from its citizens and determined to impose its own “in-house” solutions to our problems on the very people it is supposed to represent. All the while, it’s actively seeking to conceal its intentions from these very same citizens.

One brief note to the YESAA assessor in Mayo, who estimated that placing a large industrial complex close to a community that had no history of one before, would have no significant effect on that community’s present tourist-based economy. We have done an informal survey of our tourist visitors this summer and the first response when made aware of Keno’s situation as regards the mill location is, “Why do they want to put it so close to your community?”

And the second response, which comes almost in the same breath is, “If this mill goes ahead as planned, I won’t be coming back to Keno.”

Whether by design, incompetence, or honest mistake, your assessment was, apparently, wrong.

My question is: How many wrong assessments are we going to be able to afford in the future?

Bob Wagner

Keno City