Critics concerned by Casino mine plan

The giant Casino mine, if it is ever built, could be an environmental disaster for the Yukon, warns a local conservation group.

The giant Casino mine, if it is ever built, could be an environmental disaster for the Yukon, warns a local conservation group.

“These big projects tend to leave bid headaches and big problems,” said Lewis Rifkind, the Yukon Conservation Society’s mining co-ordinator. “I don’t know if the Yukon is ready to deal with a project of this size.”

Western Copper and Gold Corp. this week submitted a proposal for the $2.5 billion mine to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board. The project is located 150 kilometres northwest of Carmacks.

It is by far the largest mine proposal that the Yukon has ever seen.

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

By comparison, Capstone Mining Corp.‘s Minto mine currently processes under 4,000 tonnes per day.

The project would employ 1,000 people during construction and 600 people during operation, generating $274 million in economic activity for the Yukon annually, according to the company.

Rifkind has not yet reviewed all the details of the company’s proposal, which is about 7,000 pages long, but already has many concerns with the project, he said.

The plan is to extend the Freegold Road out of Carmacks by about 120 kilometres to the mine site.

Building new roads tends to have an exponential impact on further development, said Rifkind.

The road extension will make the area more accessible to both prospectors and hunters, and the proposed route goes through some critical caribou habitat, he said.

The plan is to power the operations with an on-site power plant fuelled by liquefied natural gas. It will take 11 truckloads of the fuel to power the 150 megawatt plant.

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

“It’s going to put the Yukon’s greenhouse gas emissions through the roof,” said Rifkind.

He would like to see the company commit to supplementing the fossil fuel power with renewable energy like wind or solar, he said.

“The generators are there to provide power, but when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, you use the renewable power, and when you don’t have the renewable power you can bring on your fossil fuel generators.”

And, since you can move wind turbines and solar panels, that infrastructure could be left as a legacy to the Yukon when the mine shuts down, he said.

Rifkind also worries about the amount of water the project will use, he said.

The plan is to pipe water from the Yukon River to the mine site.

What effect will that have on the water level and flow? he asked.

The Yukon River’s salmon population is already in trouble, and pumping huge amounts of water out could have serious effects, said Rifkind.

And he worries that the company’s closure plan could be catastrophic if not properly managed.

The plan is to construct a major embankment to hold back tailings and waste water.

“I don’t think it’s going to work,” said Rifkind.

“It something goes wrong, we’re then stuck with a huge mess, much larger than Faro.”

Canadian taxpayers are on the hook for cleaning up the mess left behind when the Faro mine closed.

That work is expected to cost $450-590 million over about 35-40 years, according the website for the cleanup project.

“Faro is an unmitigated disaster,” said Rifkind. “Faro is never going to be remediated at the rate we’re going, and the taxpayers are paying for that cleanup.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at