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Letter: Victoria Gold landslide prompts call for action

More must be done to prevent loss of life and ecological catastrophe
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The catastrophic collapse of the cyanide heap leach pad at a Victoria Gold mine is a disaster for the Yukon, for Yukoners, and potentially for the waterways and wildlife in the affected area.

That there was no loss of life, unlike the failure of another heap leach pad in Çöpler, Turkey, is due to luck.

Given the severity of the collapse at Victoria Gold, the consequences for the environment are not likely to be so fortunate. The creeks, the groundwater and the wildlife are all at risk, as are all those who depend on the water.

And then there are the economic repercussions: loss of income to the Yukon, to the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, to the workers and suppliers, big and small. All will feel the burden of this collapse.

For now, the emphasis must be on the measures to stabilize the site, to determine if there has been any escape of cyanide and/or heavy metals, and to mitigate the damage, most particularly to our waterways.

While nothing short of more stringent engineering requirements and more rigorous inspections might have helped prevent this disaster, the fact that it occurred should serve to accelerate action and change.

First, Yukon can never again permit the use of open cyanide heap leach pads. This is particularly pertinent as the yet-to-be-approved Casino project proposes using an even larger heap leap pad similar to the one that failed at Victoria Gold. We cannot allow this to happen again.

Second, before any future mine is permitted, years of baseline water data must be collected against which to measure the effects of mining development on our waterways.

Third, Yukon must pass the new minerals legislation during the fall sitting of the legislature.

With its promise to address compliance, monitoring and enforcement (with penalties and deterrences), public accountability and transparency, collaboration between government and First Nations governments, and more realistic financial securities and royalties — to cite but a few of the proposed changes — this legislation is long overdue. Further delay of this significant legislation, and its intention to bring Yukon mining laws into the 21st century, would be unconscionable and, in light of recent Yukon mining history, a travesty.

While legislation in itself cannot prevent disasters, it might make their occurrence a little less likely, make the obligations of involved parties clearer particularly with regard to the environment, provide for more realistic financial returns and more plausibly ensure that security and reclamation obligations are met.

Donald J Roberts

Chair, Yukoners Concerned