Minto mine discharges are safe: CEO

Critics calling for the closure of Minto mine are being irresponsible, says Stephen Quin, CEO of Capstone Mining Corporation.

Critics calling for the closure of Minto mine are being irresponsible, says Stephen Quin, CEO of Capstone Mining Corporation.

From July to the end of October, the mine will have disgorged 1 million litres of wastewater into the Yukon River. That’s enough to fill 402 Olympic-size swimming pools, and it’s discharged at a rate of 10 million litres, or four Olympic pools, per day.

The Selkirk Renewable Resources Committee is worried these discharges may harm fish. The committee, which is made up of members appointed by the Selkirk First Nation and the territory, advises governments on environmental issues. Last week, it recommended the territory shut Minto until its water usage is under control.

Quin has a one-word response to this critique: “Rubbish.”

The water, which drained into the minesite during an especially heavy spring melt, cannot simply be left on site, he said. If it stays until freeze-up, they run the risk of being overwhelmed by the next spring runoff.

Containment walls could breach, and then the Yukon would face a real environmental catastrophe.

“People who want to stick their heads in the sand and do nothing, it doesn’t work. Because the water is there, it has to be dealt with. The site can only contain so much water,” Quin said.

The current discharge is being treated to ensure it meets federal mining standards, which are less stringent than the mine’s water licence.

And naturally occurring water near the mine is far from pristine. It, too, wouldn’t meet the water licence conditions because of its high levels of floating copper solids, said Quin.

“It’s many times higher than federal standards, let alone our water licence standards.”

That’s why the mine is currently petitioning the water board to alter its licence to relax its water-quality conditions.

Quin’s operation stands accused of polluting for profit. Yet, if this were so, says Quin, the mine would not have bothered to flood its main mining pit with excess water, which has prevented the operation from milling its high-grade copper and eaten into profits.

If Minto were as rapacious as it is accused of being, it would have dumped the water without waiting for permission from the water board for an emergency discharge, said Quin.

Instead, it played by the rules and waited for permission to release the water, he said.

However, the water board has scolded the mine for apparent abuse of emergency discharge applications as a means of dodging a public meeting.

Minto made a similar emergency application a year ago. And the most recent application also asked for permission to discharge wastewater in the spring of 2010. The board said no to this second request.

Quin expects critics may not listen to him, but he advises them to pay heed to the experts at the water board who plowed through various agency submissions and concluded the discharge would be safe.

“The water board took all the information and made a decision,” said Quin. “If people don’t believe the water board, then we have a bigger problem in the Yukon.

“That’s the independent assessment of the regulator. Neither them nor we would want to do anything to jeopardize the environment.”

But experts disagree.

In its submission, Environment Canada suggested the discharge would harm the health of juvenile salmon found near the bend of the Yukon River into which the mine’s discharges flow.

The Selkirk RRC’s criticism selectively picks from Environment Canada’s submission, which is the most damning of the submitted comments, said Quin, noting it was alone in recommending the water board reject the mine’s application to discharge.

In its decision, the water board never says why it rejected Environment Canada’s advice.

And the mine is taking precautions to prevent harming fish. It is building a fence, which should be erected within a month, to keep fish out of the creek near the mine.

The mine is also preparing to build a better water-treatment plant. Its current facility is only capable of processing one-tenth of the water it is currently releasing, and it only works some of the time.

The current mess is largely a product of inaccurate baseline data the mine inherited, said Quin.

When it was built, Minto expected the mine would not have enough water. Instead, it has too much.

This, and other problems, should be fixed by a new water-management plan the mine has submitted to regulators. The plan has not yet been released to public scrutiny, but it includes building the new water plant, using new water figures and digging ditches to divert water away from the site.

“It costs us a lot of money to do this,” said Quin.

“It’s unjust to suggest the company is doing this to sacrifice the environment for profits when the opposite is the truth. Unfortunately there’s a whole lot of misinformation floating around. And people are getting fired up about the misinformation.”

Contact John Thompson at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukon RCMP are making an appeal for information in the case of Mary Ann Ollie, who was murdered in Ross River last year and whose case remains unsolved. (Black Press file)
Yukon youth being extorted online

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted on… Continue reading

Fines for contravening the fire ban start at $1,150 and could go as high as $100,000. File photo
Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. (Black Press file)
Yukon campgrounds to open early

Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. The early opening… Continue reading

Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce executive director Susan Guatto and program manager Andrei Samson outside the chamber office in downtown Whitehorse Feb. 23. (Stephanie Waddell, Yukon News)
When business models shift

Whitehorse chamber offers digital marketing workshop

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The aesthetics and economics of highway strips

One of the many cultural experiences you enjoy while driving from Whitehorse… Continue reading

Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone.
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone. (Submitted)
Yukon kids express gratitude for nature, pets and friends in art campaign

More than 50 children submitted artwork featuring things they are grateful for

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read