A tale of two mine proposals

Alexco Resource Corporation now awaits the Yukon Territorial Water Board's decision to licence its Bellekeno mine, following hearings last week in Mayo.

Alexco Resource Corporation now awaits the Yukon Territorial Water Board’s decision to licence its Bellekeno mine, following hearings last week in Mayo. It’s the last hurtle for the company to clear before it begins building its new mill in earnest.

But the company is confident enough operations will proceed that it’s already poured the mill’s concrete foundation. Heavy machinery rumbles around the mine site, to the consternation of Keno residents who oppose the project.

Alexco expects to begin producing silver concentrate later this year. Nobody, even the mine’s critics, expect the project will be halted now.

This all makes Bellekeno a marked contrast to another project that may have met its demise at a water board hearing earlier this year: Western Copper Corporation’s proposed Carmacks mine.

In May, the board refused to license the Carmacks project, deeming the company’s technology to be unproven and too risky to salmon and other critters in the nearby Yukon River.

The company is appealing the decision in the Yukon Supreme Court. It claims the board has overstepped its authority, noting both the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board and government approved the project.

There seems to be little risk of Bellekeno going through a similar ordeal. While Western Copper, to much controversy, proposed separating copper from ore by dousing enormous piles of rock with sulphuric acid, Alexco plans to use the tried-and-true method of building a conventional flotation mill.

There are other big differences between the two projects. Bellekeno is an existing underground mine that closed in 1989. Carmacks would be a new, open-pit operation.

Lewis Rifkind with the Yukon Conservation Society says the environmental risks of open-pit operations are “ten-fold” that of underground projects.

Carmacks faced fierce opposition from the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, which, fearing the mine may harm the environment, hired a team of engineers and lawyers to fight the project through water board hearings. Bellekeno, meanwhile, has been embraced by the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, which sees the mine as an opportunity to create work for its members.

The project is expected to create 175 jobs during construction, and about 130 jobs during its four years of operation. In June, the company and First Nation signed a comprehensive co-operation and benefits agreement, to ensure First Nation members receive a sizable share of this work.

Bellekeno has its own controversies, but most of them appear beyond the reach of the water board to fix.

Approximately 20 residents currently live in Keno. Over the past two decades since Bellekeno shuttered, they have come to enjoy the peace and quiet of their community. But that’s all now coming to an end. Alexco’s mill will be located within one kilometre of town.

The company has resisted the calls of residents to relocate its mill farther afield. Doing so would cost time and money.

Alexco also feared that if it built a mill 13 kilometres afield at Elsa, as proposed by residents, that they would be on the hook to clean up messes left by previous operators.

The concerns of Keno residents didn’t receive much sympathy from Yukon’s socio-economic assessment board. In its decision, the board wondered why, if noise is such a problem, residents moved to a place surrounded by existing mineral claims and abandoned minesites.

Insa Schultenkotter used to rent cabins to German visitors during the summer. But business is now understandably slow.

Using a sound-level meter, she found the bustle and beeping of nearby heavy equipment registered at 76 decibels from the Keno campsite – as loud as living room music.

She says heavy equipment has roared up and down a bypass road near her property as late as 1:30 a.m. When she complained to Alexco, she says officials faulted contractors for not following the rules against operating machinery late at night.

“They’re always pointing the finger at someone else,” she said.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

Just Posted

Whether the dust jacket of this historical novel is the Canadian version (left) or the American (right), the readable content within is the same. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: New novel a gripping account of the gold rush

Stampede: Gold Fever and Disaster in the Klondike is an ‘enjoyable and readable’ account of history

XX
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for May 14, 2021.… Continue reading

Copies of the revised 2021-22 budget documents tabled in the legislature on May 14. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Liberals introduce new budget with universal dental and safe supply funding

The new items were added to secure the support of the NDP.

Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn speaks to reporters on May 13. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Cap on rent increases will take effect May 15

The rollout of the policy is creating ‘chaos,’ says opposition

Yukon News file
A 21-year-old man is in custody after a stabbing in Porter Creek on May 14.
One man in hospital, another in custody, after alleged stabbing in Porter Creek

A police dog was used to track the suspect who was later arrested in a wooded area.

Safe at home office in Whitehorse on May 10, 2021. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Federal government provides $1.6 million for Yukon anti-homelessness work

Projects including five mobile homes for small communities received funding.

Drilling at Northern Tiger’s 3Ace gold project in 2011. Randi Newton argues that mining in the territory can be reshaped. (Yukon government/file)
Editorial: There’s momentum for mining reform

CPAWS’ Randi Newton argues that the territory’s mining legislations need a substantial overhaul

At its May 10 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the subdivision for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s business park planned in Marwell. (Submitted)
KDFN business park subdivision approved

Will mean more commercial industrial land available in Whitehorse

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of a bylaw to allow pop-up patios in city parking spaces. Third reading will come forward later in May. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Whitehorse council pursuing restaurant patio possibilities

Council passes first two readings for new patio bylaw

Neil Hartling, the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon president, left, said the new self-isolation guidelines for the Yukon are a ‘ray of hope’ for tourism operators. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Yukon tourism operators prepared for ‘very poor summer’ even with relaxed border rules

Toursim industry responds to new guidelines allowing fully vaccinated individuals to skip mandatory self-isolation.

A lawsuit has been filed detailing the resignation of a former Yukon government mine engineer. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A year after resigning, former chief mine engineer sues Yukon government

Paul Christman alleges a hostile work environment and circumvention of his authority led him to quit

Former Liberal MLA Pauline Frost speaks to reporters outside the courthouse on April 19. One of the voters accused of casting an invalid vote has been granted intervenor status in the lawsuit Frost filed last month. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Voters named in Pauline Frost election lawsuit ask to join court proceedings

The judge granted Christopher Schafer intervenor status

Most Read