Assessors contemplate Casino mega mine

Western Copper and Gold Corp. has submitted a proposal to assessors for its massive Casino mine project. The $2.5-billion open-pit mine is by far the largest project.

Western Copper and Gold Corp. has submitted a proposal to assessors for its massive Casino mine project.

The $2.5-billion open-pit mine is by far the largest project ever considered by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board.

The plan is for Casino to produce 120,000 tonnes per day over a 22-year mine life.

The next largest proposal that assessors have looked at was Victoria Gold Corp.‘s Eagle mine, at 30,000 tonnes per day.

The Casino mine, if it is built, will eat up 150 megawatts of power.

That’s more than the current generating capacity of the entire Yukon power grid.

The plan is to truck liquefied natural gas to an on-site power plant. The operations will require about 11 truckloads of LNG per day.

The mine will employ an estimated 1,000 people during construction and 600 during production.

Paul West-Sells, president of Casino Mining Corp., said he is proud of the proposal the company has submitted.

“It was some late nights and some strained, bloodshot eyes over December.”

The company has spent more than six years and $18 million putting the proposal together, he said.

That includes hiring experts to collect baseline environmental data and consulting with affected First Nations and communities.

The company hopes to achieve YESAB approval in the next 18 to 24 months, said West-Sells.

It would take an additional six months or so to receive a quartz mining licence, and the company is therefore hoping that construction will begin in 2016, with first production in late 2017.

That depends first of all on the assessment process going remarkably smoothly, and secondly on finding investors with deep pockets willing to put up the $2.5 billion for construction.

Talks about potential financing opportunities are still at an early stage, said West-Sells.

“As we meet some of the intermediate milestones through the YESAB process, those conversations will get a little bit more serious.

“A year from now is probably when we can start to hopefully have things a little bit more … firmed up, and within two years’ time they had better be fairly firm, because we’ll be, hopefully, on the verge on construction.”

Getting through the assessment process will not be without challenges.

One difficulty for assessors will be simply digesting the volume of information in the proposal, said Stephen Mills, the YESAB chair.

“It is thorough, there are almost 7,000 pages over 13 volumes. It will be challenging for YESAB, for us, to work through that volume of information, and it will also be challenging for others who provide really good input into our assessments to also go through that information.”

The board plans to hire four consultants to help, said Mills.

One contract will deal with the hydrology, aquatic resources, engineering and geotechnical specifications, which is not uncommon for mining proposals, he said.

Experts will also be hired to consider fish and wildlife issues, parts of the projects concerning the use of liquefied natural gas, and socio-economic impacts.

A two-year assessment process is feasible if the company has done its homework, said Mills.

The efficiency of the assessment depends on the quality of initial proposal, the quality of the baseline data that has been collected, and the ability of the company to quickly respond to information requests from the board, he said.

The first hurdle that the company must clear is to prove that it has adequately consulted First Nations and affected communities.

A request has been sent out to those groups asking for comment on the company’s records of consultation, said Mills.

The next step is for the board to determine if the proposal is adequate.

Never has a proposal come before the executive committee without requiring some additional information, said Mills. It remains to be seen if the information request for Casino will be major or minor.

Casino Mining, a subsidiary of Western Copper and Gold, has engaged with the board over the past couple years, and that probably has resulted in a more complete proposal, said Mills.

Victoria Gold’s Eagle Mine, which Mills cited as an example of a mining project that moved fairly efficiently through the assessment process, took a little over two years to clear YESAB.

That mine has been fully approved for construction, but is still waiting to find the $420 million in capital to start building.

Once the Casino proposal has been deemed adequate, the board will open the project to public comment.

If all goes smoothly, that process could begin in three or four months, said Mills.

The company has set up a website, www.casinomining.com, to provide information about the project in a user-friendly format, said West-Sells.

The full project proposal is available on YESAB’s online registry.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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