Court upholds water board’s Carmacks ruling

Western Copper Corporation's plan to build a mine near Carmacks was struck a big blow today, when the Yukon Supreme Court upheld the Yukon Water Board's decision to deny the company a license.

Western Copper Corporation’s plan to build a mine near Carmacks was struck a big blow today, when the Yukon Supreme Court upheld the Yukon Water Board’s decision to deny the company a license.

As Justice Ronald Veale noted in his ruling, “the stakes are high for everyone in this appeal.”

With copper reserves of 10.6 million tonnes, the mine is expected to have a life of at least six years and could employ as many as 250 workers during construction and 180 workers during production.

But the project faces heavy criticism from conservationists and First Nations, who worry that the mine could dump toxins into a salmon-bearing stream that feeds into the Yukon River.

The mine plans to use what’s known as heap-leach technology to strip copper from ore. It involves dousing rock piles with sulphuric acid. Critics say this technology has a spotty track record.

The water board agreed, concluding the heap-leach plans were too risky.

Copper is particularly dangerous to salmon. The metal damages a fish’s sense of smell, which in turn impedes a salmon’s ability to navigate.

The water license was the last big regulatory hoop for Western Copper to hop through before it could build its mine. It had already cleared the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board and had received its quartz mining licence from the Yukon government.

So the company appealed the decision, arguing the water board had overstepped its authority.

Veale disagreed. To force the board to agree with the assessment board’s findings “would completely eviscerate the licensing role of the water board,” he wrote.

In January, Western Copper boasted to investors it expected a favourable court ruling that would lead it to receive a water license this year. No such luck.

To meet the muster of the water board, the company will likely have to make changes so drastic that it will also have to redo the entire environmental assessment and mine licensing process. That’s a big setback.