The Yukon Water Board has ordered Highways and Public Works to stop using waste rock from the Minto mine for construction.
The Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation approached the water board for an intervention last week after discovering that rock from the copper mine was being used in Tatchun Creek as part of a bridge reconstruction project.
A recent study has found that even trace amounts of copper in salmon habitat can affect the fish’s ability to navigate and detect predators.
Tatchun Creek is considered a highly productive chinook spawning stream, according to the Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee.
The First Nation argued in its submission to the board that the rock from Minto does not meet the requirements of the water licence for the project, which requires “quarry” stone to be used in the creek.
The First Nation alleges that testing of the rock has been inadequate to prove that it will not adversely affect the salmon or the creek environment.
The water board issued an interim order halting the use of Minto mine rock on all Highways construction projects on Wednesday.
The board is authorized to make such an order under the Umbrella Final Agreement if it is satisfied that harm may occur to a First Nation.
The Yukon government disputes that it is in violation of its water licence, and that the Minto mine rock is unfit for use in the creek.
The rock is “zero grade,” meaning it is non-toxic and does not leach metal, according to a June 5 letter from government lawyers to the water board.
“Yukon inspections officials confirm that they are confident that the testing and segregation activities carried out at the mine are carried out meticulously and diligently. Storage of the zero grade rock to be used for the project has been segregated from other waste rock generated at the mine. All of these factors support the view that rock provided for use in the project is not hazardous to the aquatic environment.”
The letter also argues that the government was not given enough time to respond before the water board issued its interim order.
“When the board issued the licence to Yukon it conferred the legal authority on Yukon to act as provided for in the licence. Any change or limitation of these rights without providing Yukon ample opportunity to respond to the letter is, in Yukon’s view, procedurally unfair.”
The water board has invited the First Nation and the Yukon government to a hearing scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today. After hearing the evidence the board will review the interim order and decide if changes to the water licences in question are required.
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