Mactung could break ground this spring

North American Tungsten is applying to open its Mactung mine in east-central Yukon, along the NWT border. The corporation submitted its proposal to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board earlier this month.

North American Tungsten is applying to open its Mactung mine in east-central Yukon, along the NWT border.

The corporation submitted its proposal to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board earlier this month.

The 750-page proposal calls for the building of access roads, upgrading existing airstrips and the redirection of water from a river 13 kilometres away.

The mine would extract and process 2,000 tonnes of tungsten-rich ore per day. The concentrate would then be trucked to Edmonton and Vancouver.

If given the green light, the company plans to begin construction as early as spring and open the mine by 2013.

The corporation estimates that the mine could produce tungsten for 11 years and be cleaned up and closed by 2029.

The public is able to comment on the proposal until November 23.

Lewis Rifkind with the Yukon Conservation Society, for one, is currently wading through the massive document.

The society is paying close attention to the proposed water treatment for the mine, said Rifkind.

“They’re going to have to drain water from a stream and then they’re going to have to treat it,” said Rifkind.

“And there is going to be acid rock drainage so it will be interesting to see how they will deal with that issue.”

But the big issue for the conservation society will be the North Canol Road.

“It is going to have to be fixed up to deal with the increased traffic coming from the mine site,” said Rifkind.

“This makes it easier for hunters to get up the road.”

And increased access to the road means increased pressure on the caribou herds in the region.

At the moment, you need a pretty good 4×4 to negotiate the pothole-filled road.

But the government is looking at a five- to 10-year program to fix up the highway, which could cost the territory $70 million, said Rifkind.

And that’s not including a bridge over the Peel River.

“So we’re talking about a lot of taxpayers’ money to fix up a road that is going to be used by one mining company.”

However, the conservation society is in a bit of a bind on the issue of the road because, if the mine does go in, they would prefer a good road.

This is because the mine would use a lot of energy and therefore a lot of fuel, creating the potential for a spill.

The proposed mine would have a storage facility capable of holding 3.3 million litres of diesel fuel.

If millions of litres of gas are going to be trucked up the road, then the society wants the safest road possible.

“From an environmental point of view, if you’re only talking about oil spills, you want a really good road,” said Rifkind.

“However, that also means much increased access by hunters.”

The conservation society may suggest looking into restricting hunting on the North Canol.

Or maybe it’s time to look into a tag or permit system that would restrict the area to anyone but local hunters, said Rifkind.

“This is some of the cumulative impact that YESAB doesn’t really address in its review process,” he said.

“They’ll go through the mine site and to the best of their ability they’ll ensure that it’s not too bad environmentally, and same with the water board.

“But no one looks at the big overall impact a project like this has.”

North American Tungsten is also proposing to build a number of access roads in the area.

One of these will be a 35-kilometre stretch leading from the North Canol Road to the mine.

Another 13-kilometre road and pipeline would lead from the mine to a tributary of the Hess River for the site’s water.

These access roads shouldn’t pose much of a threat to the local environment, as long as they are gated off at their entry points, said Rifkind.

North American Tungsten is the largest tungsten producer in the western world, according to the assessment board proposal.

The Vancouver-based corporation maintains an office in Whitehorse as well.

North American Tungsten also runs the Cantung mine, just south of the proposed Mactung site, on the opposite side of the Yukon/NWT border.

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com

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