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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board is issuing $10 million in rebates to employers this month. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Yukon employers to receive $10-million in rebates from Workers’ Compensation Board

Eligible employers will receive cheques based on total premiums paid in 2020

Connie Peggy Thorn, 52, pleaded guilty Jan. 27 to manslaughter in the 2017 death of Greg Dawson. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse woman pleads guilty to manslaughter in death of Greg Dawson

Connie Thorn, 52, was arrested in October 2019 and pleaded guilty in Supreme Court on Jan. 27.

Abigail Jirousek, left, is tailed by Brian Horton while climbing a hill during the Cross Country Yukon January Classic in Whitehorse on Jan. 23. Jirousek finished second in the U16 girls category. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Cross Country Yukon hosts classic race

Cross Country Yukon hosted a classic technique cross-country ski race on Jan.… Continue reading

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver talks to media on March 5, 2020. The Yukon government said Jan. 25 that it is disappointed in a decision by the federal government to send the Kudz Ze Kayah mining project back to the drawing board. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Territorial and federal governments at odds over Kudz Ze Kayah mine project

The federal government, backed by Liard First Nation, sent the proposal back to the screening stage

Yukon RCMP said in a press release that they are seeing an increase in tinted front passenger windows and are reminding people that it is illegal and potentially dangerous. (RCMP handout)
RCMP warn against upward trend of tinted windows

Yukon RCMP are seeing more vehicles with tinted front passenger windows, prompting… Continue reading

An arrest warrant has been issued for a 22-year-old man facing two tickets violating the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em>. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Arrest warrant issued for CEMA violation

An arrest warrant has been issued for Ansh Dhawan over two tickets for violating CEMA

The office space at 151 Industrial Road in Marwell. At Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 25 meeting, members voted to sign off on the conditional use approval so Unit 6 at 151 Industrial Rd. can be used for office space. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Marwell move set for land and building services staff

Conditional use, lease approved for office space

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Industrial Road bus stop to be relocated

The city has postponed the move indefinitely

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

Most Read