I have been disappointed to read both the news articles and letters to the editor on the matter of water discharges from the Minto mine. The level of misinformation, misstatements, inflammatory rhetoric and personal attacks is truly astounding.
The whole situation has been turned on its head Ã the Minto mine, my company and myself have been accused of sacrificing the environment for profits whereas we have done the exact opposite.
As our filings with the Yukon Water Board and public filings state, excessive snowfalls (50 to 70 per cent above normal) over the winter of 2008-09 and a fast melt in the spring of 2009 led to unprecedented quantities of spring runoff that would have overwhelmed our water storage pond and led to an uncontrolled discharge of snowmelt water with high levels of suspended solids. In actuality, these waters were likely no different to those running down all the tributaries feeding into Minto Creek and lots of other creeks all over the Yukon.
However, the level of suspended solids exceeded our water-use licence requirements so, rather than having a non-compliant discharge, we sacrificed production (and therefore profits) and diverted all the excess water into our open pit, thus cutting off all access to ore to feed the mill. We then worked with our environmental consultants and regulators to find options to treat this large volume of water and remove it from the mine site in an environmentally benign manner.
Meeting our water licence levels in a timely manner that would reduce the risk of uncontrolled discharges was proving problematic so we conducted extensive test work to ensure any water to be discharged could be demonstrated to not only have no toxic effects on the environment, but would not even meet levels that could affect a fish’s sense of “smell.”
This test work was supervised and directed by highly reputable independent environmental consultants, and alternatives for discharge were reviewed in consultations with various regulators and Selkirk First Nation and their own various independent expert consultants.
However, time was running out, not driven by profits, but by the environment. We had no more storage capacity on site; everything was full. Summer rains (and we all remember the storm event of last year) could overwhelm our ability to contain water and lead to an uncontrolled discharge. And what if we did nothing, as some seem to suggest was an alternative? Winter is approaching and it gets cold, so water freezes. Once it’s frozen it cannot be pumped out, so it will stay there until freshet next year. And what happens in freshet? More water as the next lot of snow melts.
Where would we put all this water when everything is full? Nowhere. So we would get an uncontrolled discharge.
Then there was the threat of pit wall failures, as large volumes of water, never supposed to be there, lapping against permafrost were melting the permafrost and risking sections of the pit wall collapsing into the pit and muddying up the water, thus making it harder to discharge. So rather than being irresponsible profit-driven environmental destroyers dumping toxic waters into rivers without regard to the consequences, we put the environment first, taking a big hit to our bottom line, and worked co-operatively with multiple expert parties to ensure that we organized a well-regulated, controlled and demonstrably nontoxic discharge of treated snowmelt water, for goodness sake, from our site.
That is social and environmentally responsible mining in the 21st century. And the regulators did their job to protect the environment in a complex situation; they did not stick their heads in the sand or shake their fist against the sky for snowing too much, but grappled with the challenges and came to a workable solution. And yes, the mine will get back to work, make a profit, keep some 300 people employed, many of them lifetime Yukoners, and will continue to support many local businesses with some $60 million a year spent locally, and generate revenue for various levels of government in the Yukon and Canada. And this is a good thing Ã benefiting the local populace and economy without harming the environment.
So let’s not smear those people Ã government, First Nations, consultants and the company who jumped in to solve a crisis, and have put hundreds of hours and millions of dollars into protecting the environment Ã but thank them for the effort and a job well done.
Stephen Quin, president
Minto Explorations Ltd.