The Department of Highways and Public Works is standing behind its decision to use rock from Minto mine to work on a salmon-spawning creek.
Earlier this month, the Yukon Water Board halted bridge reconstruction work at Tatchun Creek after the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation raised concerns about rock being used from the copper mine.
A recent study has found even trace amounts of copper in salmon habitat can affect the fish’s ability to navigate and detect predators.
The water board ordered Minto waste rock not be used in Yukon government construction projects while it continues to deliberate.
The order added additional conditions to the licence, including more testing and the development of a management plan for monitoring conditions.
The management and monitoring plan was approved on Friday but the order remains in place while more testing is done on the rock which was supposed to be used to fortify the shoreline.
Allan Nixon, assistant deputy minister of Highways and Public Works, said samples were collected over the weekend. When the results come back – likely by early next week at the latest – they will be submitted to the board.
“We’re hopeful that they will lift the interim order and let us go back to work.”
Nixon said his department is very aware of the importance of the creek and has done everything it can to make sure the rock is safe.
“The thing that’s kind of troubling to us is that we’re getting painted with this cowboy brush and we’ve been very careful, we’ve been very professional,” he said.
“We’ve done our due diligence on this. We’re not going to do something that’s going to potentially harm a very important stream like Tatchun.”
Nixon said the department has been up front since 2012 about where the rock was coming from.
“We were issued a licence and we legally went to work.”
He said the plan was looked at by geologists, engineers and geochemists who all gave it the green light.
The new conditions on the licence are not a problem, he said.
“If they would have given us those additional conditions back in February 2013 when they issued the licence, we would have been fine with it. We would have been happy with it. We’re fine with it now.”
Reconstruction of the Tatchun Creek Bridge, just north of Carmacks on the Klondike Highway, began this spring.
Nixon said there is a very small “fish window” when work can be done in the water. That’s the period when there isn’t any fish in the stream, the fry have migrated out and the adults haven’t come back yet.
The window opened on June 10 and closes four weeks later, he said.
“If you talk to the contractor he’ll tell you that we should have been working on the 10th and it will take four weeks to do this. I mean we can do anything with more manpower and equipment.”
The longer work is stopped, the more likely it is that the plans will have to be split over two years, he said.
For now, the critical piece is the area directly under the bridge.
“We have to get that done before the girders go in, because it will be difficult to put the rock in once the new bridge is in place,” Nixon said.
“We’re going to continue working on the bridge. The rip-rap in question that’s protecting that structure, that’s the challenge for us right now.”
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