The Cantung Mine hasn’t stopped production despite an environmental crackdown by the federal government.
North American Tungsten Ltd. CEO Stephen Leahy was blindsided by last week’s order from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to cease operations, after it conducted a routine inspection of the mine’s tailings ponds.
Federal officials expressed concern with the stability of one tailings pond, seepage from another, and water discharge from the mine, which straddles the Yukon-Northwest Territories border north of Watson Lake.
“I believe the deposit of untreated mine water, as well as the seepage of water from pond 4 through its current pathway into the Flat River, poses a danger to the environment,” water resources officer Troy Searson wrote in a letter dated July 25.
“I hereby direct North American Tungsten Corp. Ltd. to cease the milling of ore, and cease underground mining forthwith.”
But there’s nothing wrong with the stability of any of Cantung’s four tailings ponds, said Leahy.
Two of them are approaching their high mark and the company has applied to build a fifth.
As for seepage, anything coming out of the tailings ponds would be benign, filtered water, said Leahy.
“To have a direction come essentially out of the blue of that magnitude was very disconcerting.
“It really shakes confidence, when you say that a dam essentially has potential for catastrophic failure.
“That’s just not true.”
The company got federal officials to agree to allow an independent third party to assess the tailings ponds before shutting down the Cantung operation.
Whitehorse-based EBA Engineering Consultants Ltd. visited the mine site Friday and submitted its report to Leahy’s office on Tuesday.
The EBA report vindicates Cantung, said Leahy.
Indian and Northern Affairs had yet to respond to EBA’s report at press time.
Most of the 194 people working at the mine are from the Watson Lake area.