Capstone Mining Corporation is defending its decision to mine and mill ore in a new area without a water licence, saying that the activity never endangered the surrounding environment.
The company’s breach of its licence drew strong criticism from the Yukon Water Board, which recently approved the mine’s work in the new area.
Capstone began mining the new area months before it even applied for the amendment. The company also began milling the ore from that area in April, despite warnings from territorial inspectors and the fact that the water board had not yet approved a licence for the work.
The company asserts it did nothing wrong because it had received approval, under its quartz-mining licence, from the territory and the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board for the new work, and because no water was being released and the mill tailings were being dry stacked.
But any activity at a mine site has the potential to affect groundwater, said Carola Scheu with the water board’s secretariat.
If the company didn’t think it needed a water licence for the work, it would have never applied for the amendment, the water board added in its decision.
“We did carry on, under the QML (quartz mining licence),” said Capstone spokesperson Cindy Burnett. “But I have to assure you, at all times, never was there any danger for the environment. Never was there water released, and that was being monitored very closely. So clearly there was a difference in opinion about what we thought we could do. And we were working under (Energy, Mines and Resources’) direction, talking with them and working with them.”
But the territory’s mine inspectors told the company that it needed the water board’s approval, said Robert Thomson, director of the client services and inspections branch of the department.
Territorial officials never stopped the mining activity or fined the company. “We felt they were acting in good faith with the board and there were no environmental consequences of the activity,” said Thomson.
“It’s not uncommon, for a short period of time, to tolerate conditions of non-compliance while corrective actions are being taken and while things are being rectified.”
Capstone regrets the “unfortunate” and “isolated incident” and wants to ensure that it does respect the Yukon Water Board’s jurisdiction, said Burnett.
Both the opposition New Democrats and Liberals want Premier Darrell Pasloski to start an investigation into the matter.
The NDP says this all goes to show what happens when the territory shifts water inspection duties from the Department of Environment into the hands of the same department that’s meant to promote the mining industry.
The Liberals disagree, but they still want an investigation to assure Yukoners that they can have confidence in the system.
By Friday morning, neither Pasloski, nor Mines Minister Brad Cathers had responded to these calls, leaving NDP Leader Liz Hanson crying foul.
“The refusal of the premier and minister of energy, mines and resources to even comment on this issue, let alone investigate the Minto water licence violation, shows contempt for the Yukon Water Board and the rule of law,” Hanson said in a release Thursday afternoon.
“The Yukon Party has a troubling pattern of rejecting decisions of independent bodies and ignoring the rules when they disagree. Under Premier (Dennis) Fentie, recommendations of the auditor general were dismissed as mere ‘opinions.’ Premier Pasloski’s government has continued this tradition. Government is tasked with creating rules and should also be expected to follow them.”
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at