Kaska optimistic about new Silvertip mine

The chief of the Dease River First Nation is looking forward to the construction of the new Silvertip mine in northern B.C., saying it will allow more of her people to work from home.

The chief of the Dease River First Nation is looking forward to the construction of the new Silvertip mine in northern B.C., saying it will allow more of her people to work from home.

Last week, the B.C. government approved the construction of the $50-million underground silver, lead, and zinc mine, owned by Vancouver-based JDS Silver. The site is 16 kilometres south of the Yukon border and 90 kilometres southwest of Watson Lake. Construction is expected to take 15 to 18 months.

“The mine could operate for up to 21 years and create 150 to 200 new jobs once full production begins,” according to a B.C. government news release.

JDS Silver also signed a social economic partnership agreement with the Kaska Nation, which includes five First Nations in B.C. and Yukon.

Chief Ruby Johnny of the Dease River First Nation said her band took the lead on negotiations with JDS Silver, since her community, Good Hope Lake, is closest to the mine site.

“We will be benefiting and there will be jobs and business opportunities,” she said. “One of the things is a lot of people will be able to work close to home.”

She said many of her community members currently work at the Red Chris, Minto, and Cantung mines, which keep them living in camps away from home.

Other band members were laid off when Yukon Zinc’s Wolverine mine shut down in January 2015.

Johnny also said Silvertip will provide apprenticeship opportunities, which would allow young band members who’ve been studying down south to come home for work.

Though her 178-member band negotiated the agreement, Johnny said all Kaska First Nations will benefit from the mine. The five bands have signed on to the Kaska Collaboration Agreement, which sets out guidelines for how benefits from resource development projects will be distributed among the communities. That agreement states that all Kaska citizens will be given equal opportunity for employment, regardless of where they live.

“Everybody benefits from this mine,” said Johnny. “As far as I know, everybody is satisfied with it.”

The mine will likely operate 150 days each year and will shut down during the winter.

JDS Silver plans to make Silvertip one of the “most environmentally responsible operations in the province,” according to Kevin Weston, the company’s chief operating officer.

The mine will not use a conventional tailings pond, instead storing tailings underground and in dry stacks on the surface.

Lewis Rifkind of the Yukon Conservation Society said he’s glad the mine won’t be using a tailings pond like the one that burst at B.C.’s Mount Polley mine last year, releasing 17 million cubic metres of water and 8 million cubic metres of tailings into surrounding waterways.

“We’re pleased to see that,” he said. “You tend not to have the danger of a catastrophic failure.”

The Kaska Nation is currently drafting a new resource law that aims to give communities more control over resource development on their traditional territory. That document will likely not be finished until this fall, but

Johnny said JDS Silver would be in compliance with the new law. The most important thing the company did, she said, was to communicate with the band.

“They’re willing to work with us. They’re willing to listen to us. Our voices are heard,” she said. “I think if everybody in the industry realized that we were willing to work with them, that’d be nice.”

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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