Mine waste rock in creek raises concerns

The Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation is fighting the Yukon government's use of waste rock from the Minto copper mine to line Tatchun Creek as part of a bridge replacement project.

The Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation is fighting the Yukon government’s use of waste rock from the Minto copper mine to line Tatchun Creek as part of a bridge replacement project.

A recent study has found that even trace amounts of copper in salmon habitat can affect the fish’s ability to navigate and detect predators.

Reconstruction of the Tatchun Creek bridge, just north of Carmacks on the Klondike Highway, began this spring.

The contractor has already begun putting rock from the mine into the creek as riprap, said Robert Moar, lands director with the First Nation.

“They’ve already started doing that, even though I have objected.”

A geochemist working for the First Nation said the rock had “rusty rock and chunks of low-grade ore,” said Moar.

The geochemist said testing results provided by the government showed substantial pollution, and did not test for all they should. “They shouldn’t be letting this stuff leave the mine site.”

Tatchun Creek is considered a highly productive chinook spawning stream, according to the Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee.

Officials are planning for an extremely poor Yukon chinook run this season. It could be the worst on record.

The Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee announced yesterday that it recommends a full closure on chinook fishing this year for the entire Yukon watershed.

That is troubling for the First Nation, said Little Salmon/Carmacks Chief Eric Fairclough.

“Salmon is a pretty big part of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation’s culture and our diet, and of course there is a big concern with the salmon run for a number of years.

“We hope that this gets straightened up soon. We can’t have this carry on. It’s all of our responsibility to ensure that we’re not polluting the water and affecting the salmon. Something needs to be done.”

Jim Tredger, NDP MLA for Mayo-Tatchun, raised the issue in the legislature Monday. He asked the government to explain how it will ensure that the rock put in the creek is safe.

Mines Minister Scott Kent responded that he would ask officials in his department and report back.

In an interview Tuesday, Tredger asked why the government is gambling with the health of the salmon and the creek.

“I know my constituents and First Nations involved are very concerned and would like some answers. Maybe there isn’t something to worry about, but this is pretty risky.”

The Department of Highways and Public Works, however, said there are no concerns with the use of Minto waste rock at the creek.

“We’ve done all the permitting, we’ve done all the assessments and the licensing. We’re fully compliant with our licences. We’ve tested the material and there are no concerns,” said spokesperson Kendra Black.

“Our riprap rock supplier provided written certification that the material provided for this project is suitable for use in the creek.”

Ron Light, general manager of Minto mine, said that the mine tested the construction-grade waste material for metal leaching and provided samples to the government for independent testing.

“We confirmed that they corresponded with the same tests that we run.”

Not all of the waste rock on the mine site is the same – this stuff is “basically waste rock with nothing in it,” said Light.

But by no means did the mine guarantee that the rock would be safe for use in the creek, he said.

That responsibility lies with the department, which holds the water licence and is ultimately responsible for fulfilling its conditions.

The Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation has also reached out to Environment Yukon and Fisheries and Oceans Canada for help on this issue, said Moar.

A spokesperson for Environment Yukon said the department is open to further communications with the First Nation about their concerns, but that the mandate for salmon rests with the federal government.

A spokesperson with Fisheries and Oceans Canada said in an email the issue is not within its jurisdiction, either.

“Environment Canada is responsible for that section of the Fisheries Act that prohibits the deposit of a deleterious substance into fish-bearing waters,” the spokesperson wrote.

Environment Canada was unable to provide a comment by press time.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at


Just Posted

A high streamflow advisory has been issued for the Nordenskiold and Klondike Rivers on May 11. Photo by Yukon Protective Services
Nordenskiold, Klondike rivers see rising water levels; advisory issued

Following the river-ice breakup, flows have continued to rise on Nordenskiold and Klondike River systems, said a release by the Emergency Measures Organization.

Mike Thomas/Yukon News file
A fox runs across the street at Main Street and Third Avenue.
A new project seeks to learn more about Whitehorse fox populations

A new project to monitor and improve the understanding of urban foxes living in Whitehorse will begin this year

The Fireweed Market in Shipyards Park will open on May 13. Joel Krahn/Yukon News
Whitehorse’s Fireweed Market opens May 13

The Fireweed Market will return with ‘exciting’ new and returning vendors

Ron Rousseau holds a sign saying ‘It’s time for a cultural shift’ during the Yukoners: Raise Your Voice Against Misogyny rally on May 11. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Protest held to condemn Yukon Party MLAs’ texts

A rally was held outside of legislature to condemn the inappropriate texts messages of Yukon Party MLAs Stacey Hassard and Wade Istchenko.


Wyatt’s World for May 12, 2021.… Continue reading

Drilling at Northern Tiger’s 3Ace gold project in 2011. Randi Newton argues that mining in the territory can be reshaped. (Yukon government/file)
Editorial: There’s momentum for mining reform

CPAWS’ Randi Newton argues that the territory’s mining legislations need a substantial overhaul

At its May 10 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the subdivision for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s business park planned in Marwell. (Submitted)
KDFN business park subdivision approved

Will mean more commercial industrial land available in Whitehorse

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of a bylaw to allow pop-up patios in city parking spaces. Third reading will come forward later in May. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Whitehorse council pursuing restaurant patio possibilities

Council passes first two readings for new patio bylaw

Neil Hartling, the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon president, left, said the new self-isolation guidelines for the Yukon are a ‘ray of hope’ for tourism operators. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Yukon tourism operators prepared for ‘very poor summer’ even with relaxed border rules

Toursim industry responds to new guidelines allowing fully vaccinated individuals to skip mandatory self-isolation.

A lawsuit has been filed detailing the resignation of a former Yukon government mine engineer. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A year after resigning, former chief mine engineer sues Yukon government

Paul Christman alleges a hostile work environment and circumvention of his authority led him to quit

Former Liberal MLA Pauline Frost speaks to reporters outside the courthouse on April 19. One of the voters accused of casting an invalid vote has been granted intervenor status in the lawsuit Frost filed last month. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Voters named in Pauline Frost election lawsuit ask to join court proceedings

The judge granted Christopher Schafer intervenor status

Haley Ritchie/Yukon News file
File photo of the legislative assembly. The previous spring sitting began on March 4 but was interrupted due to the election.
Throne speech kicks off short spring legislature sitting

The government will now need to pass the budget.

Most Read