Major changes are coming to how the Faro mine site is managed.
As of May 1, the Yukon government is handing over control of care and maintenance as well as construction work for the site to the federal government.
Work at the Faro mine has always been paid for by Ottawa but since 2009 it had been managed on the ground by the Yukon.
Now, the territorial government is transferring the care and maintenance contract, work being done by Parsons Corp., to Ottawa. The federal government has also issued a tender for a construction manager on the site ahead of major construction work planned for this summer. Under the old model that manager would have worked for the territorial government.
Stephen Mead, the Yukon’s director of abandoned mines, said the decision to hand over control was made as part of ongoing negotiations between the federal, territorial and First Nations governments in the area “about how the project should best be governed and managed as it moves forward.”
Mead wouldn’t go into specifics about the negotiations since they are still happening.
“One of the things that needs to happen is this summer there needs to begin a fairly large suite of construction work,” he said.
“So because of the time pressure associated with the construction and the need to be prepared for that, the component of the negotiations and discussions related to the care and maintenance has been taken out and advanced ahead of time with the support of Ross River (Dena Council) and Canada.”
Starting in August the federal government is planning to build a several-kilometres-long diversion system to collect and transport dirty water at the north fork of Rose Creek. That project is supposed to last between two and two-and-a-half years, Mead said.
Mead said that the RRDC has been asking “for quite some time” that the federal government execute work on the site directly.
“I think the real driver is that they are preferring to have a direct relationship with those responsible for the liability (who) are also those responsible for executing the work,” Mead said.
Ross River Dena Council Chief Jack Caesar could not be reached for comment in time for this story.
Mead said the negotiations are part of “moving ahead with reconciliation with the affected Yukon First Nations and RRDC in particular and what we can do to ensure that they receive some economic benefits and opportunities from the project itself.”
Liard First Nation, Kaska Dena Council and Selkirk First Nation are also part of the negotiatons.
No one from the federal government was made available for an interview. In a statement the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs said “this new approach clearly establishes a single line of responsibility and accountability for each government and maximizes value to the taxpayer by eliminating duplication between the two governments.”
Discussion with affected First Nations are “about other ways to further streamline processes and structures according to best practices. The agreement will be announced once this process has concluded and final approvals and signatures are in place,” the statement says.
There is no timeline in place for when the deal could be signed.
The Faro mine was at one point the largest open-pit lead-zinc mine in the world. It was abandoned in 1998, leaving behind 70 million tonnes of tailings and 320 million tonnes of waste rock.
Last year officials said the clean-up was expected to cost half a billion dollars on top of the $350 million that has already been spent.
Mead acknowledged that work on the site has been a “fairly significant” part of his branch’s time and budget. He estimates they spent between $10 million and $15 million worth of Ottawa’s money every year.
But he said no one will be losing their jobs as a result of the change.
“There will be no layoffs. We have a plan in place and Canada has committed funding to keep people engaged, we’re just rearranging those resources to where they’re best needed.”
Staff could move over to other mines the branch is working on, he said.
Exactly what the Yukon government’s role will look like at the Faro site is still part of the negotiations. But Mead said the Yukon will still be involved.
“So really the role changes but perhaps it just reverses. We have an input role and they execute whereas previously we executed and they had an input role.”
Last year officials said they were planning on having full construction at the site up and running by 2022 once remediation plans make it though the Yukon’s environmental assessment process.
Lewis Rifkind, a mining analyst with the Yukon Conservation Society, said “we know things are definitely not getting better” while waiting for work to start.
He said he hopes a change in management will mean work on the site will progress.
“We hope that with the new management that we will actually start to see movement on closure and reclamation at the Faro site.”
Officials have said they are expecting remediation of the land to take between 10 and 15 years, wrapping up sometime around 2036 or 2037.
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