Faro mine remediation plans take shape

After nearly two decades of caring for the abandoned Faro mine site, the federal and territorial governments are getting closer to coming up with a remediation plan.

After nearly two decades of caring for the abandoned Faro mine site, the federal and territorial governments are getting closer to coming up with a remediation plan.

Starting this month, the Yukon government is scheduling public consultation meetings in communities around the territory to talk about the future of the site.

The meetings are a required step before the both governments can submit a remediation plan to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board next year, said Dustin Rainey, the Yukon government’s senior project manager.

Once the largest open-pit lead-zinc mine in the world, the Faro mine was abandoned in 1998 leaving behind 70 million tonnes of tailings and 320 million tonnes of waste rock, which have the potential to leach heavy metals and acid into the surrounding land and water, according to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

Various government departments have been maintaining the site since its closure.

“Care and maintenance, in the Faro sense, is its own industry unto itself,” Rainey said.

The mine site still employs dozens of people. The water treated there is about equivalent to the amount of water the City of Whitehorse uses every year, he said.

While work to date has focused primarily on the water, the remediation plan will include work on the contaminated land.

Instead of moving the contaminated land around, they’ve decided to go with a “stabilize in place” approach, Rainey said.

Any of the dams currently in place will be upgraded. The waste rock piles “will be re-sloped (and) flattened, to make sure that they’re more stable,” he said. The piles will then be covered “to isolate that mine waste from the atmosphere and the environment.”

More details about what the land will look like and what it could be used for will be available once the plan is submitted to the assessment board next year.

No matter how much work is done to clean up the Faro site, it doesn’t appear government will be able to wash its hands of the project completely.

Rainey said there will always have to be someone monitoring the water. As well, the huge pit, which is more than a square kilometre in size, is never going to be filled in, he said.

“There always will likely be places that are just unsafe for people to access on the site and we’ll have to control that just to protect people’s own health and safety.”

The fact that the site may need to be cared for “forever” concerns Lewis Rifkind with the Yukon Conservation Society.

“Who’s going to pay for this? Are we going to pay for it forever?” he said.

“Every dollar we spend on water treatment on this mine site is a dollar less for schools, hospitals, roads and — it’s unusual for YCS to say this — it’s a dollar less for investing in other economic development opportunities.”

The federal government pays the bills for the work at the mine site. The territorial government is in charge of most on-site management.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada estimates it has spent $350 million on the site since 1998. That includes $150 million on care and maintenance.

There’s no word on how much the department plans to spend on remediation and future monitoring. No one from INAC was available to comment for this story.

Rifkind said he’s glad the plan is heading towards the Yukon assessment board because that will mean more transparency.

“As soon as you start putting stuff into YESAB and into the water board, a lot of documentation is available and you get a chance to ask questions.”

There are still concerns about what is on the site and what is flowing off, he said.

Since about 2013 high levels of zinc have been seeping out into the north fork of Rose Creek which flows past the site. The numbers continue to be high during the winter, Rainey said.

“As the waste rock dumps get older, it is expected that seepage will increase, which will damage water quality and impact fish and their habitat. Environment and Climate Change Canada has called for immediate attention to this issue,” according to federal government documents.

According to the documents the plan is to realign the creek to try and separate the mine’s water from the ground water for treatment. That’s scheduled for 2018.

Actual remediation isn’t expected to start until 2022 once the assessment board has approved a plan and the government gets a water licence.

Community meetings about remediation have been scheduled for Ross River on June 19 and Faro on June 20. More meetings will be happening in Pelly Crossing, Watson Lake, Carmacks and Whitehorse according to the territorial Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. Those meetings haven’t been scheduled yet.

The Town of Faro has seen a dramatic drop in population since the mine closed.

Chief Administrative Officer Ian Dunlop said the remediation plans could benefit Faro’s economy.

“It sounds like there could be over 100, possibly 150, workers that would be involved in that over a long term of about 15 years or so. So that would definitely bring a lot of economic stability to the town.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speak at a COVID-19 update press conference in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. On Nov. 24, Silver and Hanley announced masks will be mandatory in public places as of Dec. 1, and encouraged Yukoners to begin wearing masks immediately. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Masks mandatory in public places starting on Dec. 1

“The safe six has just got a plus one,” Silver said.

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 30. Hanley announced three more COVID-19 cases in a release on Nov. 21. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three more COVID-19 cases, new exposure notice announced

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley, announced three… Continue reading

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: COVID-19 strikes another blow at high-school students

They don’t show up very often in COVID-19 case statistics, but they… Continue reading

The Cornerstone housing project under construction at the end of Main Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. Community Services Minister John Streicker said he will consult with the Yukon Contractors Association after concerns were raised in the legislature about COVID-19 isolation procedures for Outside workers at the site. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Concerns raised about alternate self-isolation plans for construction

Minister Streicker said going forward, official safety plans should be shared across a worksite

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

City council was closed to public on March 23 due to gathering rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council is now hoping there will be ways to improve access for residents to directly address council, even if it’s a virtual connection. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Solution sought to allow for more public presentations with council

Teleconference or video may provide opportunities, Roddick says

Megan Waterman, director of the Lastraw Ranch, is using remediated placer mine land in the Dawson area to raise local meat in a new initiative undertaken with the Yukon government’s agriculture branch. (Submitted)
Dawson-area farm using placer miner partnership to raise pigs on leased land

“Who in their right mind is going to do agriculture at a mining claim? But this made sense.”

Riverdale residents can learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s plan to FireSmart a total of 24 hectares in the area of Chadburn Lake Road and south of the Hidden Lakes trail at a meeting on Nov. 26. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Meeting will focus on FireSmart plans

Riverdale residents will learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s FireSmarting… Continue reading

The City of Whitehorse is planning to borrow $10 million to help pay for the construction of the operations building (pictured), a move that has one concillor questioning why they don’t just use reserve funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Councillor questions borrowing plan

City of Whitehorse would borrow $10 million for operations building

Most Read