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Plans for Casino mega mine under criticism

The Yukon government, several First Nations and various federal departments are expressing concerns about plans for the Casino project, which would be the largest mine in the territory's history.

The Yukon government, several First Nations and various federal departments are expressing concerns about plans for the Casino project, which would be the largest mine in the territory’s history.

Many of the criticisms focus on the proposed mine’s tailings pond, which would be permanent after the mine’s closure and would require ongoing management.

The comments have been submitted to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board in response to a supplementary information report provided by Casino Mining Corporation. That report was submitted in December.

The various parties say the mining company still hasn’t provided enough information about the project to allow it to move forward for environmental assessment.

In its comments, Yukon’s Department of Energy, Mines and Resources says the mining company hasn’t done enough to analyze potential impacts of a tailings dam failure, or to examine alternatives to a tailings pond.

“The tailings management facility proposed by Casino Mining Corporation will create a long-term liability for Yukon,” it states. “There is no profit to be generated from the Casino site after closure, but only ongoing costs to be incurred forever. These ongoing costs are not insignificant, and amount to over a million dollars a year.

“Apart from the financial liability, there is an environmental liability. Failure of the tailings management facility, even if the probability of failure is extremely low, would result in significant and potentially irreversible impacts to the environment.”

Environment Yukon also requested more information about potential impacts on wildlife, especially caribou.

Tr’ondek Hwech’in and Selkirk First Nation echoed the Yukon government’s concerns about the tailings dam in their comments.

“(A) continuing concern is that of the design of the tailings impoundment, which was developed in 2012 and hasn’t changed since originally presented in the project proposal of 2014,” according to the report from Tr’ondek Hwech’in. Both First Nations recommended that the mining company do more to analyze alternatives, like drying the tailings instead of keeping them in a pond.

For their part, Little Salmon Carmacks and White River First Nations both stressed the need for traditional land use studies specific to individual First Nations.

“Much of the information used by the proponent… is generalized and non-specific information about the practices of First Nations…. This is contrary to industry best practices which require First Nation-specific studies,” reads the report submitted by White River First Nation.

White River First Nation’s representatives also commented that the mining company has not provided any funding to help the First Nation review the proposal.

“This continues to cause White River First Nation significant concern as it cannot conduct an adequate review of the proposal without funding.”

Natural Resources Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada have also submitted comments.

And the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency has issued a letter concluding that “as is outlined in more detail in the federal departments’ specific submissions… the federal view is that sufficiency of information remains a problem at this stage of the assessment.”

This is the second time YESAB has asked Casino Mining Corporation to provide additional information about the project, and the second time that First Nations and government departments have found the company’s response inadequate.

The company first submitted its proposal for the Casino project in January 2014.

But YESAB spokesperson Rob Yeomans said that’s not uncommon for a project of this size.

“I think for us it’s a very large project, the largest in Yukon’s history. So to that end, we’ve been asking for quite a bit of information and detail.”

He added that the company has been “very responsive” to YESAB’s information requests.

“I think in this case, the proponent’s worked with us fairly well.”

Keith Maguire, a development assessment process manager with the government’s executive council office, agreed.

“Each time we review it, there are fewer and fewer outstanding issues. Things are coming to a place where we’re comfortable coming to a screening.”

But Lewis Rifkind of the Yukon Conservation Society said he thinks it’s unusual to see government departments voicing such serious concerns about a project at this stage. He suspects they’re reacting to the 2014 Mount Polley disaster, when an Imperial Metals tailings dam burst and released 25 million cubic metres of contaminated water and mining waste into B.C. waterways.

“Suddenly there’s an awareness that ... these large-scale tailings dams, maybe it’s not the way to go.”

Rifkind called the tailings dam a “show-stopper” for the Casino project - a single issue that could set back the entire development.

“The questions being raised are big, project-killing questions,” he said. “Is this going to stand up?”

YESAB will make its decision about the supplementary information report on Feb. 19. It can decide to put out a third request for more information from the company, or it can move the project forward for environmental assessment.

Paul West-Sells, president of Western Copper and Gold, the company that owns the Casino project, declined to comment on the process before YESAB has made its decision.

Contact Maura Forrest at