Keno residents bulldozed by mine

The Bellekeno silver mine officially opened six months ago and, already, Keno residents have a long list of complaints.

The Bellekeno silver mine officially opened six months ago and, already, Keno residents have a long list of complaints.

Some formally public roads have been closed and others have been so run down by Alexco Resource Corporation’s trucks that they’re almost impassible in cars, according to Keno resident Insa Schultenkotter.

And those trucks often flout the company’s 30 kilometre-per-hour speed limit, racing down the roads just outside the town.

Residents also complain of dust clouds that descend upon the community, and noise from the rock crusher and mill, built just one kilometre away.

And the company is not sticking to its set hours of operation.

Schultenkotter and her partner, Bob Wagner, are not against mining, they said on Tuesday.

However, they are against the way that Alexco Resource Corp. is going about mining just outside of Keno, as well as the assessment and regulation process that allows them to do it.

Schultenkotter has lived in Keno for years, and was the owner of Keno Cabins for the past 12 years.

Wagner has lived in Keno even longer, and worked in the Keno Hill mine for 20 years before it was shut down in 1989.

But now the couple are fed up and leaving Keno for good.

They were in Whitehorse this week, living out of an RV and hunting for a new place to live.

“Alexco claims that when they bought the property they obtained the right to go mining,” said Schultenkotter with tears in his eyes.

“Did this private company also buy my quality of life?”

When the mining application went before the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, Keno residents raised concerns about dust, noise, traffic and road access.

Alexco promised to address these concerns with things like speed limits, set hours of operations and dust and noise-abatement programs.

These measures went into the assessment board’s recommendations and also into the government’s decision document, giving the project the green light.

But these mitigations either aren’t being followed or aren’t doing enough to protect local residents, according to Schultenkotter.

One evening, around 9:30 p.m., Schultenkotter asked one of the workers why they were still crushing rock.

In Alexco’s proposal, it had promised to limit the mine and mill’s hours of operation to 12 hours a day, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., in order to mitigate the affects on residents.

Schultenkotter reminded the worker of this, she said.

“But he just laughed and told me that that isn’t part of the mining permit. They think they can do whatever they want.”

There might be some confusion about the quartz mining licence, said Tim Smith, manager of mining lands at Energy, Mines and Resources.

When you look at the licence on its own, you don’t see any additional regulations.

“But what that does is set up a process for receiving a whole range of more detailed plans that must be approved,” he said.

“The quartz mining licence is accompanied by a plan-requirement letter that does identify all of those plans that the company must put forward before various aspects of their operations can proceed.”

One of these plans is for monitoring things like noise levels and dust.

Alexco monitors all of this on its own, and reports it to government in their annual report.

“We’ve just received their first annual report and we did ask for some additional information, but there’s nothing there that would suggest that they are not following their parameters.”

Smith doesn’t see a problem with the company monitoring itself, and notes there are a number of government mining, water and safety inspectors visiting the site regularly to keep them honest.

The government, or an independent third party, would only begin monitoring the mine’s impact on local residents if there’s an indication of a problem, he said.

“But that hasn’t come to our attention yet.”

If there are problems, Smith encourages residents to contact Energy Mines and Resources’ field inspector, based in the department’s offices in Mayo.

The plans tacked onto the quartz mining licence also contain the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. set hours of operation, Smith confirmed.

And these rules have been broken on occasion.

“I think we are aware of a couple of incidents, on just isolated occasions, where the crusher for example was down during most of the day and I believe that the company made a management decision to operate a little bit beyond their operating hours, so that they could get caught up,” he said.

“But we have no evidence that that’s a regular occurrence.”

There was no penalty or fine levied on the company for breaking its set hours of operation.

“I think there was probably some follow-up and, in the circumstances, I think the company’s rationale may have been accepted, and given the noise levels from the crusher, looking at the monitoring results, it didn’t seem to present a huge impact,” said Smith.

“If that were a regular occurrence then yes there very well may be fines.”

The power to the Bellekeno mine went down last Sunday evening and wasn’t repaired until Tuesday night.

Smith was unsure whether the crusher and Mill would now be working overtime to make up for the two lost days.

“We’d need to consult with inspectors about that,” he said.

“It would depend on what the company is actually seeking in terms of allowance or flexibility on their licence requirements.”

Schultenkotter compares her situation to miners with claims in the Tombstone Territorial Park as well as the area under consideration for the proposed Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan.

“When the mining industry is impacted by any public process or decision there is an outcry for compensation,” said Schultenkotter.

“If a longtime Yukoner, who invested in the territory, is affected by mining activity, it is expected that they just roll over for the sake of mining. Compensation is not considered by YESAB or government.”

Both Schultenkotter and Wagner have given up on Keno, and don’t plan to go through the YESAB process in the future when Alexco applies to open three new mines in the area.

They don’t think they’ll get listened to anyway.

But they want their story to serve as a warning to others in the Yukon.

“What happened to us could happen to any community,” said Wagner.

“And just wait until the price of copper goes up, Whitehorse is going to find out.”

Alexco could not be reached before press time.

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com

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