The Capstone Mining Corporation knowingly violated its water-use licence at the Minto Mine, according to the territory’s water board and mine-site inspectors.
In April 2011, the company started mining in a new area at the site. This work wasn’t covered by the company’s existing water licence. The company didn’t apply for an amended licence to cover the new area until September of that year.
In April 2012, the company started milling the ore it extracted from the new area. That work hadn’t been approved by the water board either, until an amended licence was issued last week.
Territorial officials told the mine it was breaking the rules in April of 2012, when milling began. But that was one full year after the company began to flout its water licence.
For NDP Leader Liz Hanson, this shows what happens when the proverbial fox is allowed to guard the hen house. She sees that happening with the shifting of responsibility for inspecting and monitoring water use at mines from Environment to Energy, Mines and Resources.
“The Government of Yukon really did, in my mind anyway, hold up this example of water-licence inspection at Minto as the model of how we should do it in the territory,” said Hanson.
“If nothing else, the water board ruling that they’ve issued and have sent to the premier clearly demonstrates that you can’t have the same department being both the champion of resources development and extraction and ensuring compliance with the regulations.”
Not so, said Robert Thomson, director of the client services and inspections branch of Energy, Mines and Resources.
His branch consulted with Justice and the water resources branch when deciding what to do, he said.
“We were very proactive in telling the company that they were required to amend the licence. We did document the non-compliance in inspection reports submitted to the board, and we did respond in a manner that I think is consistent with the way that any other agency would have. The inspectors have a clear understanding of the authority they have. They absolutely did not believe they had the authority to authorize this activity.
“All in all, we think it’s a small, but very tidy and well-run mine. They’re doing a lot of things right. I think the environment is being well protected both by the way the mine is being run and the way the inspection program is being run. But yes, the company could improve on seeking amendments to its approvals in a more timely fashion.”
Capstone didn’t respond to phone calls before the News’ press time. But in the water board’s hearing for the licence amendment in July, the company pointed out that it wasn’t releasing any water, and all the mill tailings were being dry stacked.
According to the hearing’s transcripts, the company asserted that inspectors from Energy, Mines and Resources approved the dry stacking, considering that Capstone had begun the water-licence amendment process.
“We felt they were acting in good faith with the board and there were no environmental consequences of the activity,” said Thomson.
This is why inspectors allowed the work to continue, without a fine, charges or shutting down the mine, he added.
“We always advised (Capstone) that they had an obligation to amend the water-use licence,” said Thomson. “And we told them that only the water board had the authority to authorize the activities they might engage in. It’s not uncommon, for a short period of time, to tolerate conditions of non-compliance while corrective actions are being taken and while things are being rectified and in this case, I think that holding back the water and co-operating in good faith with the water board were just those circumstances.”
Both the territory’s NDP and Liberals have called on the premier to hold a public investigation into what happened to ensure Yukoners can be confident in the system.
But Thomson said there are currently no plans in the department to do any further investigation.
The water board also raised concerns that the territorial government didn’t show up to the water board hearings.
Thomson said the department submitted a written intervention and had no other concerns with the application.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at