Miner tries to mollify nervous neighbours

Chuck Eaton wants to run a mine all day, every day, near Isabelle Gagnon's home. "We're quite surprised the city is letting that mine run 24/7," said Gagnon, whose house sits 500 metres away from the site.

Chuck Eaton wants to run a mine all day, every day, near Isabelle Gagnon’s home.

“We’re quite surprised the city is letting that mine run 24/7,” said Gagnon, whose house sits 500 metres away from the site. “But I’m lucky I’m not on the Mt. Sima Road, you know, a truck every 48 minutes. I would be hysterical today.”

Eaton is president of Eagle Industrial Minerals Corp. His company wants to harvest iron-rich magnetite from the tailings of the old Whitehorse Copper mine, which operated from 1967 until 1982.

On Monday afternoon, Eaton made an hour-long presentation at the Westmark Hotel, in the effort to assuage community members’ concerns about his proposed project. But nearby residents, like Gagnon, remained unconvinced.

For six or seven years, the project would run 24 hours a day, seven days a week for eight or nine months of the year. A truck filled with magnetite ore would leave the site every 48 minutes.

When this work is done, the area would be safer and greener than it is now, said Eaton.

“We’re really disappointed with the city,” Gagnon said, catching the attention of Kirk Cameron, a Whitehorse city councillor, as he left the meeting.

“For these guys to do this, they need to run 24/7, and I don’t think that’s appropriate within city limits,” she told Cameron. “You don’t see that anywhere else in Canada. We’ve done the research. And it’s been really snuck in, this project. We were never aware of all this.

“When I went through Canyon Crescent and met with everyone on my street a month ago, no one was aware of this, they all had question marks on their faces. I can’t believe it looks like a done deal.”

Cameron replied that city bylaws allow 24/7 operations, provided there is a sufficient buffer between the work and residential properties.

“But I don’t know the details well enough,” said Cameron. “That’s the kind of stuff I am going to take back to city administration and just say, ‘Go double check this stuff and make sure that this is accurate.’”

Gagnon told Cameron that some of Eaton’s information was not accurate.

The California investment banker showed an equipment-sound chart, and asserted that the noise really won’t bother residents.

According to the chart, noise from the project’s excavator would register at 46 decibels at the nearest residence. That’s equal to a conversation in one’s living room.

“And that is if there were a flat piece of ground between the excavator and you are standing there, 800 metres away,” said Eaton. “We do not have flat ground out here. We’ve got a lot of sound barriers between any of those residences and our project.

“We’ve got hills and valleys, we’ve got trees. It’s an excavator, it’s going to be digging a hole, it’s going to be in the hole.”

The company plans to demolish two old dams on the site, and that will be noisy, said Eaton. But during that work, he would abide by bylaws that forbid work between 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., he said.

“But this is not really a mine site,” Eaton said. “We’re not drilling or crushing. We don’t think noise is going to be an issue.”

But Eaton’s chart is skewed, said Gagnon.

The chart is based on an excavator digging in sand, she said.

“Excavation of rocks is more than 100 decibels,” she said. “I’m a doctor, I know that. It’s way more than 100 decibels, so you can present whatever you want up there, but when they’re going to destroy these dams, when they’re going to excavate, break rocks, which is in their plan, it’s going to be more than 100 decibels, and to let this run 24/7? Excavation in other cities, construction equipment, is not allowed after 11 o’clock, so I don’t know why Whitehorse would do it.”

Noise isn’t the only concern nearby residents have. Most of the proposed operation’s neighbours draw water from their own wells.

Eaton plans to douse the tailings with water from the flooded underground mine and pit. This water would then be pumped back into the pit lake, after it’s treated to drinking-water standards.

Residents worry this work may disrupt their own water tables.

But it won’t, said Eaton, who tried to explain hydrological maps, fancy computer models and tests performed in the area.

Rocks under the site won’t allow runoff to reach residential wells, he said.

Eaton’s models did show an increase in selenium in the water, but this won’t be big enough to cause harm, he said.

Selenium is a common byproduct of copper mining. It also exists naturally in the human body, but too much can be toxic.

More than 400 micrograms per day can produce symptoms that range from a garlic odour on the breath to hair loss, neurological damage, cirrhosis of the liver and death. In small doses, selenium is used in anti-dandruff shampoos and can be found in some fish, nuts and eggs.

Selenium won’t be a problem because Eaton plans to clean the pit lake first, he said.

He plans to put molasses and alcohol into the deep-water pit just before ice forms, to reduce metals in the water. This would be repeated as needed, based on water-monitoring results.

To prevent dust, Eaton would cap tailings with gravel and douse the site with water if needed.

The operation would cut off well-used trails in the area. But Eaton has talked with the Klondike Snowmobile Association, and is willing to work with others, to cut new trails.

The Yukon-Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board is expected to decide on the project soon and Eaton should have his water licence application in to the Yukon Water Board by the end of this week, he said.

Eaton has also started talks with White Pass in the hopes of having freight trains run from Carcross to Skagway. From there, the ore would be shipped to Asia.

No decisions have been made by the railway yet, but if they go for it, Eaton said this could help spur along many other mining projects.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at