Canadian United Minerals owner Joel White is pressing ahead with plans to mine for gold in Tombstone Territorial Park.
But the company is facing a lot of questions as it wends its way through the Yukon’s regulatory regime in pursuit of a new five-year mining permit.
White wants to use helicopters to sling ore from the mine site every two weeks during the summer months.
He figures he can extract all the gold-rich rock within five years and that the project would have a negligible impact on the park.
“The project can be mentioned as an odd but creative shared use of one small area of the park due to a rich deposit found by astute and enterprising prospectors and geologists,” said White in an upbeat pitch to assessors last fall.
White submitted his plans to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board 10 months ago. He’s still waiting for assessors to begin soliciting comments on the project.
This is White’s second shot at getting a new mining licence. His previous plan, to haul gold-rich ore along a winter trail by snowmobile, was rejected by the territorial government in September 2010, for fear the project would tarnish the park’s iconic image.
If the new project gets the go-ahead, backcountry hikers at the Talus Lake campsite may hear the occasional boom of dynamite exploding. The campsite is within three kilometres of White’s Horn claims where he intends to blast apart surface rock, before digging a series of shallow trenches with a small excavator.
Warning visitors of planned blasting “would go a long way in avoiding negative surprises,” wrote White.
Campers would be welcome at his exploration camp, White wrote, “to share the camp location for tenting or to learn about mineral deposits as they are found in the Tombstone batholith.”
Helicopters would avoid flying along Grizzly Valley as originally proposed. Assessors expressed concerns that vehicle traffic would disturb bears in the area.
Helicopters would, however, still fly over the park’s iconic Tombstone Pass, using “the shortest route” and approaching the camp from the south.
White proposes to dig 20 trenches. Each would be approximately eight metres long, three to four metres wide and one and a half metres deep.
White said pains would be taken to minimize the site’s footprint. The excrement of workers would be double-bagged and flown out, a nearby colony of collared pikas would be studiously avoided, and after development, native seeds would be scattered over trails to encourage the tundra to regrow.
But these commitments may be overshadowed by assessors’ ongoing concerns with the project. To date, White has received four requests for additional information on subjects ranging from sheep habitat to the potential for waste rock to leach acid.
And White must also contend with his own past record as a messy miner.
Until the Horn camp was cleaned up last fall, White had left behind leaking fuel barrels, explosives, unfilled trenches and an excavator.
And at another of his mining camps in the Dawson area, he didn’t report a 15,100-litre diesel spill and repeatedly ignored requests to clean up his work site.
Last fall, “at great expense and effort,” he said a work crew cleaned up the Horn camp. It removed rubbish, heavy equipment, old fuel drums and several tonnes of contaminated soil, filled in most trenches, buryied drill core and safely stored the remaining fuel on site.
But that wasn’t good enough for territorial mining inspector Jim Leary, who once again deemed the site to be “inadequate” after his last inspection.
“This property has had a significant cleanup and organizing. None of these activities has been completed to the extent required to meet the final decommissioning conditions,” states his Sept. 14 report.
Leary found unfilled trenches, unburied drill core and plastic in a nearby stream.
Although White had been ordered to tear down the camp and remove all fuel, he hadn’t.
White protested that the inspection was unduly harsh, in a Jan. 2 letter.
“Nothing was left at the site to cause any deleterious effects on wildlife,” he wrote. “Inert objects, one small burning barrel that was still smouldering upon departure from the site and left covered, some empty beverage containers scattered on the table inside the building, some wire – these are not extreme circumstances that merit punishment.”
Canadian Minerals staked the Horn property shortly before the territorial government banned staking in the area, during the leadup to the creation of the park. Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation once tried to fight the Horn claims in court, arguing that the exploration project contravened their land claims agreement. But the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed its appeal for a hearing in 2007, after lower courts ruled against the First Nation.
Both parties accuse one another of failing to communicate, with White asserting in his letter that “efforts to contact or communicate with the First Nation were not reciprocated, but rather accusatory comments were made that no consultation had taken place.”
White’s last bid to renew his mining licence for the Horn property also resulted in a campaign against the project launched by environmental groups. Assessors received approximately 600 letters, nearly all of which opposed White’s plans.
“Many respondents were from overseas or other countries, not understanding fully the nature of the Yukon’s reality. Such a small project is often confused with much larger interests by those who are very emotional about the sanctity of protected spaces,” wrote White.
“The negativity against mining, at this point in civilization, is painfully hypocritical, as everyone in the world benefits from the products of mineral deposits, their understanding and development.”
White asserts that regulators ought to put the interests of “residents in the mineral exploration and extraction business” ahead of “visitors on a ‘once in a lifetime’ one-week tour.”
He didn’t return several calls from the News.
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