Yukon Premier Sandy Silver talks to media on March 5, 2020. The Yukon government said Jan. 25 that it is disappointed in a decision by the federal government to send the Kudz Ze Kayah mining project back to the drawing board. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver talks to media on March 5, 2020. The Yukon government said Jan. 25 that it is disappointed in a decision by the federal government to send the Kudz Ze Kayah mining project back to the drawing board. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Territorial and federal governments at odds over Kudz Ze Kayah mine project

The federal government, backed by Liard First Nation, sent the proposal back to the screening stage

The Yukon government says it’s disappointed in a decision by the federal government to send the Kudz Ze Kayah mining project back to the drawing board.

“Following four years of regulatory assessment, this decision creates unreasonable and unnecessary uncertainty for the proponent and sends a troubling signal,” said Premier Sandy Silver, in a statement.

“The Government of Canada absolutely needs to take steps to streamline these processes going forward to ensure greater clarity and certainty for the mining industry,” he said.

The Kudz Ze Kayah project is a proposed open pit and underground zinc, silver, copper, gold and lead mine in the northern Pelly Mountains, 115 kilometres south of Ross River, in the traditional territories of the Kaska, including Liard First Nation and Ross River Dena Council.

On Oct. 12, 2020, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) issued recommendations related to the project in a Final Screening Report.

After YESAB issues a report, the project must then be approved by the decision bodies: in this case, the Yukon government, Natural Resources Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The territorial government felt the board’s analysis and suggestions were reasonable to allow the company to proceed, but the federal government felt otherwise.

In a letter detailing the Jan. 22 decision, the government says the screening report produced by YESAB was insufficient.

The decision says more detail is required on how First Nations interests and rights in the project were considered and more information is required on the mitigation measures proposed that intend to protect resources such as water and caribou.

“The FDBs look forward to working with all parties and participants in tackling next steps,” concludes the letter, signed by David Carter, a regional manager in the department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Rinaldo Jeanty, a director general within Natural Resources Canada.

In his statement, Silver said the Yukon was prepared to accept the recommendations and proceed, but the federal government’s decision means “we cannot issue a decision document accepting the recommendations at this time.”

The project has undergone four years of review since BMC Minerals took it over in January 2015.

The mine is planned to operate for a minimum of nine years, according to BMC, producing an estimated yearly average of 106,800 tonnes of zinc and smaller amounts of copper and lead concentrates. The project tailings will be stored either underground as cemented paste fill or in a dry-stacked tailing facility on the surface, according to the company.

Liard First Nation leadership has opposed the project in its current form. In a letter to the decision bodies following the YESAB committee, Chief Stephen Charlie recommended that the project be rejected or referred to a public panel.

In his letter addressed to ministers, Charlie writes that the report recommends the governments “proceed with mitigations despite a clear, well-documented and significant harms to Kaska Aboriginal rights, including Aboriginal title.”

Ross River Dena Council (RRDC) has not provided a similar letter to the government regarding the latest decision. In 2019 the First Nation council completed their own independent environmental assessment review.

In the most recent correspondence submitted to YESAB from the RRDC, on Jan. 14, 2020, Chief Jack Caesar wrote “Ross River Dena Council is pleased with the positive relationship we have established and are continuing to develop with BMC Minerals Ltd., particularly as concerns the KZK project.”

Caesar noted that “discussions and negotiations” were ongoing, including the support of Elders in the community and specific concerns such as the Finlayson caribou herd.

Chief Caesar was not immediately available for comment on the most recent development.

BMC Minerals representatives said the decision by the federal government was unexpected, but they are committed to working with the Kaska to see the mine move into the next stage.

“We are a little surprised with the federal questions that are coming after the process was completed. We think the questions they’ve asked probably could have been asked at the draft decision document stage in 2019,” said Allen Nixon, BMC Minerals’ vice president of external affairs.

“It puts some uncertainty into our short-term plans for sure, and potentially our longer-term plans,” he said. “We’re just looking forward to seeing the end of this stage of the process so that we can enter into the permitting process.”

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

Fisheries and Oceans CanadaYukon First NationsYukon government

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

Just Posted

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

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

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

A sign indicating a drop-off area behind Selkirk Elementary school in Whitehorse on Feb. 25. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Parking lot proposal for Selkirk Elementary criticized

Parents and school council are raising concerns about green space and traffic woes

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