Portion of Bellekeno mill site with waste rock piles behind. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News file)

Portion of Bellekeno mill site with waste rock piles behind. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News file)

Vehicles abandoned in flooded portion of Keno Hill mine prompts warning letter

Added water monitoring going into effect after pickups and van left underground and underwater

Hecla Mining has been given a warning by the Yukon government after four vehicles were left behind in a flooded underground tunnel at the Bellekeno Mine, which is in a state of temporary shutdown.

Hecla purchased the entire Keno Hill mine project from Alexco Resources this summer along with the rest of the company’s operation. Bellekeno is one of the deposits in the Keno Hill project. It was shut down prior to the sale to allow Alexco to focus efforts on other deposits.

The Oct. 14 letter from the Yukon government warns that leaving the vehicles behind in the now-flooded mine shaft is a violation of the reclamation and closure plan agreed to under the water license for the mine. It does clarify that the vehicles had been left behind and overtaken by flooding by mistake and that they had been drained of fluids and had their batteries removed before the flooding.

The letter quotes from the reclamation and closure plan stating that all mining fleet equipment must be moved out and salvaged prior to closure. It does say that some equipment such as piping, vent tubing and electrical cable that is not worth salvaging may be left behind.

“Hecla staff have acknowledged the error in interpreting their [reclamation and closure plan] and have been cooperative in information requests during this investigation. The vehicles (three pickups and one passenger van) were hauled into a portion of the mine that flooded by the time the error was confirmed. Hecla has stated that due to the flooding of the mine and the removal of infrastructure, it would be unsafe to dewater the mine and retrieve the vehicles,” the letter reads.

In an email to the News, Mike Satre, Hecla’s director of governmental affairs, stated that the flooding of the tunnel had been planned as part of reclamation work. He added that this generally happens when pumping ceases and tunnels fill up as the water table returns to its natural level.

“As part of the reclamation plan that tunnel was planned to be flooded. While a waste management plan or reclamation plan may allow vehicle disposal underground in other jurisdictions it was not allowed here and the vehicles had been disposed of in violation of the reclamation plan by the prior owner,” Satre wrote.

The representative of the government’s compliance, monitoring and inspections branch who signed off on the warning letter wrote that considering the safety issues with removing the vehicles and Hecla’s cooperation, no charges under the Waters Act are being pursued. The company will however have to monitor for hydrocarbons in the raw water going into one of their water treatment sites.

Contact Jim Elliot at jim.elliot@yukon-news.com