Alexco picks new site, faces old criticisms

Alexco Resource Corporation has abandoned its controversial plans to build a mill at Christal Lake, just outside Keno City. But its new mill location, to the west of town at the former Flame and Moth mine...

Alexco Resource Corporation has abandoned its controversial plans to build a mill at Christal Lake, just outside Keno City.

But its new mill location, to the west of town at the former Flame and Moth mine, appears no less controversial to a group of Keno residents who continue to oppose the project.

“In my mind it’s a dirty trick,” said Insa Schultenkotter.

She’s worried about how changes to the project, announced this week, leave little time for scrutiny before next Wednesday’s deadline for public submissions to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board.

The company only moved the mill to appease concerned residents, said Rob McIntyre, vice-president of Alexco.

Unlike the Christal Lake site, the new location would be out of sight from the highway, he said.

And noise should be dampened. It was feared that the rumbling of heavy machinery at Christal Lake would bounce off nearby hills and travel over the water back to town.

A hill sits between Keno and the new site. It’s about one kilometre west of town, which means it’s actually closer to town than the Christal Lake site.

“It’s just around the corner. Nothing really changed,” said Schultenkotter.

She’s part of a group of about 18 concerned residents who oppose the project. They stress they aren’t opposed to mining on principal—many spent much of their working lives in the industry.

But they worry that, after the territory has sunk millions into trying to turn Keno into a tourism destination, visitors will be driven away by dust and noisy machinery of a nearby mine.

The group would prefer to see the new mine built at the old Elsa mine site, about 13 kilometres from town.

But Alexco has balked at the idea of building the mine there for fear of being stuck with the bill of cleaning up historic contamination. They also fear that additional transportation costs could make the mine unprofitable.

The mine has its boosters. Mayo’s town council supports the project, as do some Keno residents. A petition in favour of the mine garnered about 50 signatures, including five belonging to Keno residents.

Alexco wants to build a mill to process ore from the existing Bellekeno underground silver mine. If the company has its way, construction would start this summer.

The mine is only expected to operate for five years, but Alexco hopes to stay in business in the area for several decades to come, thanks to a contract they’ve secured from the federal government to clean up neighbouring minesites.

The mine is expected to employ about 175 during construction, and about 130 people while in operation.

But first Alexco needs to obtain a licence to build the mine, which is far from guaranteed, given local opposition.

The new plan includes a bypass road, so that trucks hauling ore from mine to mill won’t need to drive through town. But Schultenkotter worries that trucks hauling silver concentrate will still need to cut through Keno.

She also fears waste tailings may be blown from the site to town. Not so, said McIntyre.

He stresses more than half of the tailings will be buried underground, including all pyrite, so that the waste left above ground won’t be acidic.

The remaining tailings will be compacted into a dry tailings stack, similar to what’s used as Minto mine, and capped annually.

Noise continues to be another concern, given the close proximity of the mill to town. Some fears have also been expressed that machinery will roar around at early hours of the morning. But work at the mill will be restricted between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., McIntyre said.

“We’re convinced it’s not going to be as bad as some people think it will be,” said McIntyre.

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com.