Three prospecting leases overlapping Golden Predator’s Brewery Creek property could threaten plans to re-open the mine, according to a letter from the company’s lawyers to the Yukon government.
“The company views these leases and any further placer claims as conflicting activities, nuisance staking and potentially fatal to the successful restart of the Brewery Creek mine,” the lawyers wrote.
If the government does nothing, the company will hold it responsible for costs and damages, according to the letter.
Janet Lee Sheriff, the company’s vice president of communications and First Nation relations, said Golden Predator is primarily worried about maintaining control over its environmental impact.
The company holds a quartz mining licence, a Class 4 land use permit and a water licence at the former gold mine, located about 50 kilometres east of Dawson. It has a $725,000 bond with the government that holds it responsible for any environmental damage to the area.
“When you start allowing other activity to happen in that vicinity … you lose control over environmental stewardship, and you can’t control what the results are, and you can’t say who is doing what.”
The company has plans to submit an application to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board for the re-opening of the mine later this year.
That process, too, could be affected by the overlapping leases, said Sheriff.
“The Yukon government has placed a new party into the mix.”
The lawyers suggested that while some jurisdictions do not allow overlapping placer and quartz claims at all, it may be more appropriate in the Yukon to protect properties with a Class 4 permit.
At that stage, “the project is well advanced and needs to be protected from conflicting interests and nuisance staking,” according to the letter.
Golden Predator has already invested $30 million in the property, said Sheriff.
Liberal Leader and Klondike MLA Sandy Silver asked Monday what the government has done to resolve the issue.
Mines Minister Scott Kent dodged the question by saying that the government won’t comment on legal issues.
He also declined to be interviewed for this story. A spokesperson for cabinet also said that the government does not typically comment on legal issues.
Energy, Mines and Resources, however, did make someone available to answer questions about the overlapping claims.
“The legislation completely allows for it,” said Briar Young, a manager with the mineral resources branch.
Because quartz claims deal with everything below the bedrock and placer claims deal with everything above, there is no inherent conflict in overlapping claims, he said.
The prospecting leases that have been granted on the Brewery Creek property allow for “very, very minimal work,” said Young. The land cannot be mined or prepared for mining – only grassroots prospecting is permitted.
Prospectors are responsible for any impacts caused through their activities, said Young.
“These two tenure systems, of quartz and placer, have been around for over a hundred years. I think in most cases they have been able to work harmoniously together.”
Lawyers for the Yukon government responded to Golden Predator’s lawyers in a letter on May 5.
According to the letter, the government does not intend to withdraw Golden Predator’s property from further placer dispositions and will not vacate the existing leases.
The letter encouraged Golden Predator to communicate with the prospectors with overlapping claims in order to avoid or manage conflicts.
Golden Predator has denied one of the prospector’s request to access his lease by the company’s private roads, said Sheriff. The prospectors may still access the site by helicopter.
The heart of the problem is that Yukon’s mining rules are outdated and don’t reflect the complex environmental considerations of today’s mining regime, said Sheriff.
“I think the Yukon needs to have modern legislation that adequately considers water licences, Class 4 exploration permits, land claims and devolution – factors that may not have been present when the legislation was originally drafted.”
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