Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) says it now has adequate information about Goldcorp’s proposed Coffee gold mine to proceed to an assessment.
A public comment period opened late last month and will close on Oct. 15, after which the public will have the opportunity to parse through a draft report.
This development marks a big shift in a roughly two-year saga.
The mining company had an incomplete proposal package until this point. The board found that the company didn’t properly consult with First Nations, nor did the board have adequate information to move ahead.
But now it does.
“The proposal went through a couple of bumps along the way, no doubt,” said YESAB spokesperson Rob Yeomans. “We did remove them from the process for lack of consultation, but they came back with the information they needed and that allowed us to proceed to where we are now.”
In May, White River First Nation (WRFN) formally requested the project be put through a panel review, the most rigorous level of assessment in the territory.
Yeomans said that is currently being considered.
“A panel can be struck at any point in the process,” he said.
White River First Nation says a failure to adequately consult it “at the outset” means that information pertaining to its interests has not been collected, according to a letter it sent to the executive committee, dated May 14.
“WRFN’s position is that the information submitted by the proponent and WRFN is inadequate to determine that the project will not contribute significantly to cumulative adverse effects in Yukon (and similarly that it will not cause significant public concern, including concern to WRFN members),” it says.
The First Nation believes there’s enough information on hand to show the mine could impact caribou herds. It says rights, culture and ways of life, which hinge on the land that project includes, could be jeopardized.
WRFN Chief Angela Demit could not be reached for comment.
Only one project, the Casino mine, has made it to a panel review, but its proposal is currently incomplete, Yeomans said.
Yeomans described the adequacy process as a back-and-forth of information requests. In the case of the Coffee mine the first, from the executive committee in February, had 285 questions; the second one, in June, had 76.
Questions typically revolve around issues like water quality (surface and groundwater), infrastructure, community and wildlife health.
“We read through the proposal they’ve submitted and then we determine if there’s areas we need more detail (about) or areas they may have missed. We send information requests and if they don’t fulfill those, we send another one,” he said, noting that he believes the project went through a “couple of rounds” of these requests before its proposal checked out.
“At the executive committee level, the adequacy review stage is all about getting enough information to start an assessment,” Yeomans said. “It’s not so much about change, it’s about details, about their plans, about their design.”
The Coffee property is approximately 130 kilometres south of Dawson City and measures approximately 50 by 12 kms. Facilities include four open pits, two buildings for rock storage, ore processing and water management facilities and a sodium-cyanide heap leach facility.
Operations are expected to last about 12 years.
The documents say 663 people will be hired for the construction phase and 372 will be hired to operate the mine.
The site is connected to an all-weather road called the Northern Access Route, but Coffee is proposing upgrades to it as well as extending the road by about 37 kms, said general manger Chris Cormier.
“What’s currently there are four open pits, a processing facility, office complexes and of course the camp to house our folks, along with a runway,” he said.
“The adequacy process is about, one, working with our First Nations partners to make sure they adequately understand what the project is going to be and then also answering those technical questions so that both YESAB and other regulators know what we’re building,” Cormier said.
“I think that was done in a very thorough manner through all those cross-sections of people,” he said adding that part of the intention is to leave a long-lasting, positive legacy for the Yukon.
“What we’re looking at is a project that will focus on Yukoners and putting an emphasis on hiring qualified local, regional and First Nation residents,” he continued. “We want to look at training opportunities, career development opportunities.”
First Nations in and around the proposed project include Selkirk First Nation and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.
The First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun is also affected. Chief Simon Mervyn said that while he supports First Nations who are onboard with the project (Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in signed an agreement with Goldcorp earlier this year) he still has concerns.
“It’s size, how it’s going to affect the waters, our brothers and sisters downstream, how they’re going to contain those toxic contaminants,” he said, noting that, out of respect, he doesn’t want to “step on other First Nations’ toes” (Na-Cho Nyak Dun has an agreement with Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.)
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Chief Roberta Joseph said there’s no reason why the project shouldn’t progress to the screening stage.
“Basically, our number one interest is to ensure that the project is sustainable, that it meets the values of our community, in terms of ensuring mitigative measures are met,” she said.
“From an economic point-of-view it creates jobs, but our way of life has been threatened, you know,” Mervyn said.“The overextension of environmental issues is just beyond our capacity.”
Lewis Rifkind, a mining analyst at Yukon Conservation Society, highlighted the checks and balances that must be imposed on the project, preemptively.
“We have some concerns about what increased access to this region will mean, not only at the actual mine site, but along the way,” he said, noting that it could lead to more hunting.
Additional questions pertain to how far mine officials are looking into the future, in terms of remediation processes that will prevent “perpetual” supervision and treatment when the mine shutters, he said.
“Every mine, no matter what the proponent says, has a negative environmental impact. The goal is to have a mine site that is to eventually not require human intervention to deal with things like dust, water runoff that’s contaminated.”
Contact Julien Gignac at firstname.lastname@example.org