Minto mine announces more layoffs

Without the permits in place to expand operations, another 50 jobs will be lost at the Minto mine over the coming weeks. In January the Capstone Mining Corp.

Without the permits in place to expand operations, another 50 jobs will be lost at the Minto mine over the coming weeks.

In January the Capstone Mining Corp. halved open-pit mining production and shed 44 jobs through subcontractor Pelly Construction in order to stretch out permitted ore through the summer.

But the company is still waiting on a water licence that will allow them to expand into Minto North, the next pit scheduled for mining, and is running out of ore in existing pits.

As a result, the Pelly Construction crew will scale back again.

Underground mining operations continue at the mine as normal.

Mill operations are also unaffected, as ore from underground operations and stockpiles continue to be processed.

The company applied to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board in July 2013 to expand into phases five and six of the mine plan.

The board made multiple requests to the company for additional information before deeming the proposal adequate in December.

The board recommended that the project proceed in April, and the Yukon government released its decision document in June.

The company applied for an amended quartz mining licence and water licence in July.

The new quartz mining licence is expected to be ready today, said Mines Minister Scott Kent in an interview this week.

But it’s unclear when the amended water licence from the Yukon Water Board will be ready.

“There haven’t been any major stumbling blocks, there are no contentious issues, it’s just a matter of working through the process,” said Cindy Burnett, Capstone’s vice president of investor relations and communications.

There has been some discussion over the past weeks about whether or not the next phase of mining could get started without the new water licence in place.

“Our position is that because the proposed work is largely land-based, that it can be managed under the company’s existing water licence and the amended QML that is coming out, through strict terms and conditions,” said Kent.

The Yukon Water Board disagrees. It says that activity at the next mine pit must be covered under a water licence, and that it currently is not.

The board has suggested to the company that it could submit an application for a water licence that covers only Minto North, instead of all of phases five and six, said Carola Scheu, the water board’s director.

It’s unclear at this point if the company will do that, or continue with the major application that is currently under review.

“We are currently reviewing their big application and getting it ready for public comment,” said Scheu.

“It’s a fairly extensive application. We’re on it, is all I can say. It’s big, and it keeps us very busy.”

Burnett said that submitting a new application could jeopardize the one already submitted, and that may not by a good option for the company.

“From our perspective, the application that we have made is what stands,” she said.

The company hopes to have the licence in place by the end of the year, but at this point there is little certainty on the timeline, said Burnett.

All involved said there have been no major delays in the process, it’s just that the process takes time.

Minister Kent said his government is working on ways to make the permitting process run more efficiently.

There’s a lot of overlap between the quartz mining licence and the water licence, he said. “And it’s administered by two separate agencies, one being the quasi-judicial water board.

“The waters act itself pre-dates the YESAA act as well, so there’s uncertainty and some inefficiency and that’s what we need to work to address. We need to find some common ground so that situations like this don’t happen again in the future.”

Some work is already being done, he said. As of October there will be new timelines for the water board review process, and amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act are currently before the Senate.

“This work that we’re doing is of critical importance, especially when you see job losses associated with something like this. We remain committed to the future of the mine and continue to work closely with Capstone mining towards the long-term plan of being fully operational in the coming months.”

Capstone was in a similar situation in 2011. It started work in a new mining pit in April of that year without the proper water licence in place.

It wasn’t until a year later that territorial officials informed the mine that it needed a water licence for the work.

Operations at the mine continued without water board approval until a licence was finally issued in September of 2012.

“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,” a director with Energy, Mines and Resources said at the time.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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