The future of the Minto mine site remains uncertain after Minto Metals Corporation has ceased mining operations and abandoned the site and the Yukon government has taken over.
“We’ve received confirmation that the company doesn’t plan to return to the site,” reads a May 15 statement from John Thompson, who works in communications for the territorial department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
In a technical briefing earlier on May 15, the Yukon government’s assistant deputy minister of mineral resources Stephen Mead said the corporation abruptly informed the government May 12 that it intended to stop all mining operations and remove all staff and subcontractors from the site over the weekend.
The government quickly contracted JDS Mining to continue with water treatment and management of water stored on site by securing employees and infrastructure.
“Our focus in the very short term, over the last 72 hours, has been to ensure that we can we do everything we need to do to keep the environment safe, and we’ll continue to do that throughout this,” Mead said.
“It’s a bit early days to speculate about the future of the mine now. Obviously in focus right now is making sure clean water is the only thing that reports to the creek, and we will continue to monitor that.”
The mine has produced approximately 500 million pounds of copper since it began operating in 2007, with underground operations starting in 2014. The mine site is located west of the Yukon River, approximately 250 kilometres north of Whitehorse, on the traditional territory of the Selkirk First Nation.
On April 18, a mine inspector had directed Minto mine to take “proactive” action to avoid releasing contaminated water to the environment during the spring melt due to a lack of storage capacity.
According to a May 13 government release, the company has indicated it can’t continue operations at the site.
A May 13 release from the corporation announcing its decision indicates the corporation is working “closely and cooperatively with the Yukon government to ensure a smooth transition” but does not provide its rationale. The News reached out to the corporation but did not receive a response by the deadline.
“Needless to say ceasing operations at the Minto mine was an extremely difficult and disappointing decision that was not taken lightly,” the corporation’s president Chris Stewart said in the release.
“We are acting responsibly in coordination with the Yukon government to avoid any damage to the environment.”
Mead said the mine is currently stable. He said the government is “confident” the mine’s water storage won’t exceed capacity leading to contaminated water overflowing into the environment.
“As of now, all the site systems are working. We have the staff required to do it. And we have subcontracting and services in place as well to be able to manage all that water infrastructure,” Mead said.
The number of workers laid off remains unknown. Mead said the mine had about 180 staff and subcontractors in total during operations. As of May 12, there were 129 employees and subcontractors on site, he said.
Mead said JDS Mining had about 50 staff on site over the weekend.
While no cost estimates are available, officials said the government intends to access the $75.2 million from securities that are being held to cover the costs of the work.
“Major mines must pay the Yukon government financial security to cover the cost to reclaim and close the mine site. Minto Metals Corp. has paid $75.2 million in security. The government intends to use this to cover the cost of hiring the contractor at Minto mine,” Thompson explained.
Mead said the corporation still owns the assets at the site and has obligations under the inspector’s direction and its licenses. The mine owes $1.37 million in outstanding royalties to Selkirk First Nation.
Mead said the First Nation has been briefed on the situation.
“When a company leaves the site, and government has to assume care and control, we rely on an instrument which gives the government the ability to take whatever measures are necessary to protect people’s property and the environment,” Mead said.
“That’s the authority that the government is working under.”
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org