Messy miner wants to keep digging

When Joel White went looking for gold in Tombstone Park 10 years ago, he left behind a mess. There were leaking fuel barrels, boxes of unattended explosives, trenches that were never filled and tarps blowing around in the wind.

When Joel White went looking for gold in Tombstone Park 10 years ago, he left behind a mess.

There were leaking fuel barrels, boxes of unattended explosives, trenches that were never filled and tarps blowing around in the wind.

At his other mining camp, near Dawson, White discharged sewage into Black Hills Creek, didn’t report a 4,000-gallon diesel spill and repeatedly ignored requests to clean up his campsite.

Now his company, Canadian United Minerals, is applying for a mining permit to explore in Tombstone for another 10 years.

And, his messy mining practices may not matter.

The government likely won’t take White’s track record into account when it decides this month whether to allow more exploration work in Tombstone, said Energy, Mines, and Resources spokesman Jesse Devost.

Canadian United Minerals has owned 18 gold claims in Tombstone’s Ogilvie Mountains since 1997.

Until 2004, the company did preliminary exploration work there, discovering significant gold deposits worth “millions,” said White.

But after it pulled its drills out of the ground they refused to clean up their campsite, even after being repeatedly asked to by mining inspectors.

In 2004, mining inspectors told the company to backfill trenches and fix a broken Kubota on site.

But for the next six years, the company’s mess sat, while its inspection reports grew increasingly worse.

“This site has not been active for several years and the developments on site are deteriorating,” wrote mining inspector Jim Leary in a June 2010 inspection.

The company was given an “unacceptable” grade for its storage of 45-gallon fuel tanks.

“Some leakage was observed and not all of the barrels had their bungs secured,” reported Leary.

None of the trenches had been backfilled.

In mid-June, Parks staff discovered two boxes of unattended explosives at the site, which is three kilometres from a nearby campground.

A month earlier, White fought a request by Energy, Mines and Resources to place a security bond of $65,000 on his Black Hills placer mine near Dawson.

The bond was necessary because of past failures to clean up that site, said mining lands officer Janet Bell.

“Inspection reports dating back to the 2000 operating season contain a variety of concerns about the operation,” wrote Bell. The operator “left the property in a state that was unacceptable.”

“A significant amount of debris, pails, equipment parts, vehicles, equipment, buildings, etc. are spread from the top of the property to the lower mining location,” wrote Leary in 2007.

In total, White and his other company, Coulee Resources, received 10 separate requests to clean up the site between 2000 and 2009.

Eventually, White’s partners took on the brunt of the clean-up work in 2009 after they were threatened with the prospect of not having their mining application renewed.

It wasn’t the first time the Black Hills operation was put under the magnifying glass.

In 1995, White accidentally clipped a fuel tank with a blade from his Cat, letting up to 4,000 gallons of diesel seep into the ground.

There was no dike built around the tank in case of a spill, wrote mining inspector Ed Lenchuk.

Also, “No effort was made to recover or clean up spilled fuel, to my knowledge,” he reported.

The spill, which occurred late in the mining season, was never reported by White.

Dawson’s placer mining office only learned of the spill when a “disgruntled ex-employee of Coulee Resources” informed them, reported Lenchuk.

The fuel sat over winter and still hadn’t been cleaned up by March the following year.

Energy, Mines and Resources raised the issue of the large fuel spill in May, during its review of White’s Yukon Water Board application to mine the area again.

It also highlighted that the company had discharged sewage into Black Hills Creek.

White doesn’t deny his less-than-golden track record.

Clean-up work still needs to be done out at Tombstone, he said last week.

“I was there in July and addressed most of the concerns the branch had,” he said. “But more needs to be done.

“There was fuel leaking out of 200-litre barrels and a tremendous amount of equipment out there.”

He is aware, he says, that clean-up activity is an integral part of mining work.

“I won’t make excuses for past mistakes or any foot-dragging I’ve done,” he said. “I’m making an effort to make it happen.”

Last Friday, the Yukon’s environmental assessment board recommended White not mine in the territorial park.

Doing so would disrupt the sheep, caribou and bears that live there. It would also interfere with tourism and taint the image of Tombstone as a protected park, it said. The board didn’t mention White’s past mining record.

White wasn’t surprised by the assessment board’s recommendations.

“They’re under public pressure to not support this,” he said, referring to the nearly 700 letters of opposition sent to the board in July.

“It’s an emotional issue.”

But that hasn’t stopped White from wanting to mine there anyway.

If Energy, Mines and Resources says he can’t create new access trails to his mining claims he’ll “wheelbarrow (the gold) out one load at a time,” he said.

But White is entertaining the idea of the government buying out his claims.

“I don’t fear the government having to buy me out,” he said. “I’m not emotionally married to the issue.”

A buyout has never been discussed with the miner, said Devost, last week.

“We haven’t considered any options on that front,” he said. “We’re focusing on the assessment for now.”

That decision is expected the first week of September.

Contact Vivian Belik at