Tagish Lake Gold facing safety charges

Over the next few months Tagish Lake Gold will be spending more time in a Whitehorse courtroom than exploring its property in the Wheaton River Valley.

Over the next few months Tagish Lake Gold will be spending more time in a Whitehorse courtroom than exploring its property in the Wheaton River Valley.

In February, the Vancouver-based junior mining company was issued a new five-year permit, despite the fact that it was under investigation by the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board.

Territorial court documents show 12 charges against the company under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

All charges speak to action, or inaction, between July 19 and September 4, 2011.

According to the charges, on July 20, 2011, the company received a stop-work order at its property, about 30 kilometres west of Carcross.

It allegedly violated that order twice.

The next five charges allege the company failed to provide for adequate safety with equipment like scissor lifts, underground dump trucks and scoop trams. This, the charges say, include failing to ensure proper maintenance, operator awareness and in the case of the scoop tram, it’s alleged the company didn’t properly guard the operator’s cab from “falling, flying or intruding objects.”

The next two charges apply to the company’s haulage road that accesses its Chieftain Mountain exploration drill program. The charges allege the company did not build proper barriers or a berm on the road, or an emergency runaway lane.

The last three charges allege the company failed to do its job when it came to posting inspection reports in places workers can see them. The twelfth and final charge alleges the company not only failed to post inspection reports, but that it actually removed a notice a safety officer attached to the scoop tram.

The company has remained mum on the investigation and the incidents leading to it.

In September 2011, Peter Torn, a lawyer for the company, told the News that work had not been stopped on the site, including underground drilling, and that about 25 workers were still at the site working.

At that time, the health and safety board also refused to offer details but said inspectors issue stop-work orders if they find “immediate danger to life and health,” or discover a company has defied an earlier order.

Since then, the company’s land-use permit expired and a new one was approved.

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board twice extended the time for public comments on the project, which includes the old Mount Skukum and Goddell underground gold mines.

The Carcross/Tagish First Nation and the local renewable resource council both made submissions. So did the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, even though the project isn’t actually within its traditional territory.

The biggest concerns for the First Nations and resource council were water and wildlife. The water used for the project feeds directly into Bennett Lake, the headwaters of the Yukon River and a drinking water source for the local community.

The area is home to sheep, moose and caribou, and the First Nations are concerned more access will mean unregulated and irresponsible hunting.

Further development of this project could negate the efforts of a more than 15-year voluntary hunting ban of caribou, the Carcross/Tagish wrote in its submission to the board.

But the project was approved. It includes up to 60,000 metres of surface and underground drilling, up to 200,000 tonnes of rock excavation with explosives permitted, construction of about 20 kilometres of roads and drill trails, trenching, line cutting, fuel storage and up to a 50-person camp operating year round.

The Department of Energy, Mines and Resources’ decision on the project is over 11 pages long and includes more than 50 instructions.

But a list of stipulations, and an ongoing court case, are not Tagish Lake Gold’s only concerns.

Its parent company, New Pacific Metals Corporation was scolded by the British Columbia Securities Commission in July 2011 for breaking national rules with a technical report it disclosed about its solely-owned Tagish Lake project.

Rui Feng, CEO and president of Tagish Lake Gold and New Pacific Metals, is also the head of Silvercorp, a China-focused silver producer that’s become embroiled in a big controversy following allegations that it has massively exaggerated its profits.

All this may come to hurt the Tagish Lake project because Silvercorp is the majority shareholder of Pacific Metals.

Pacific Metals did not respond to calls before presstime and the Yukon’s Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board said it could not comment on an issue currently before the courts.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at roxannes@yukon-news.com

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