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Western Copper gets licence to mine

Despite local resistance to the Western Copper Carmacks mine, the Yukon government has given it the go-ahead. Much like Keno City's proposed Alexco Mine, municipal and First Nations say they've been left out of the loop.

Despite local resistance to the Western Copper Carmacks mine, the Yukon government has given it the go-ahead.

Much like Keno City’s proposed Alexco Mine, municipal and First Nations say they’ve been left out of the loop. But the Yukon government has approved it anyway.

“There was not much duty to consult on the part of the government,” said Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation Chief Eddy Skookum, on whose traditional land the mine will be built.

The First Nation is concerned about the heap leaching process to be used in extracting copper.

“Canada gives out money for clean water”

he said. “(Canada supports) those kinds of ventures after the mining companies are over and done with. If something happens this time, it’s Canada and the Yukon government’s fault for letting this process go ahead.”

Western Copper’s quartz mining licence, issued on April 15, clears the way for mine construction. It lays out conditions the company must follow, including water testing and monitoring the mine facilities for leaks.

But Skookum doesn’t feel confident about the project yet.

“We haven’t been brought up to speed,” he said. “They should have been talking to us before they hand out these licences instead of just leaving us behind.”

The First Nation’s concerns, which caused consternation during the mine’s environmental and socio-economic assessment, will be addressed at some time in the future, said Bob Holmes, mineral director for the Energy, Mines and Resources department.

“The licence requires (Western Copper) to submit various plans, and the plans will outline what they’re proposing to do and when they’ll be approved,” said Holmes.

“Those details are still to come.”

The conditions are strict and expansive, detailing different tasks the company must perform throughout the mine’s lifetime, he said.

However, the mine won’t be built anytime soon.

Western Copper doesn’t have the money to start construction.

“We want to see all our permits in place and have a clear go-ahead before we begin any construction work,” said Claire Derome, the company’s vice-president for government and community relations.

Its feasibility study was written early last year, and will be reviewed in light of new economic markers.

“Construction conditions are different and the price of copper is different,” said Derome. “We’re looking at all these parameters to see at which point we’ll be able to make a production position.

“At the end of the day we need to have the capital in hand to construct and operate the mine. Before you make a construction decision, you need to make sure that you can raise sufficient capital in the market.”

Western Copper has to pay $80,300 in security payments within 30 days of the license being signed.

“The quartz mining licence is a major step for the company, but it’s not all that we need,” said Derome.

It must pay $175,257 within 30 days of building an access road, $1,392,280 within 30 days of building the mine and another $1.3 million within 30 days of starting production.

The open-pit copper mine is predicted to produce 14,500 tonnes of cathode copper per year. Plans call for operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

It is expected to employ about 150 people.

The town of Carmacks is worried about traffic.

“(The lack of a bypass road) certainly remains an issue,” said Carmacks Mayor Elaine Wyatt.

The existing plan calls for industrial trucks to drive through the centre of town, past schools, playgrounds and one of the town’s tourist draws—the boardwalk.

The traffic flow is the Yukon government’s responsibility, said Wyatt.

“All we can do at this point with the First Nations, ourselves and Western Copper, is lobby the Yukon government to put the bypass through,” she said.

There are other mines in the area that could also use the five-kilometre bypass road, said Wyatt.

“It’s not really Western Copper’s problem,” she said.

The Yukon government won’t build a bypass road until the mine sets a startup date, said Holmes.

Concerns about the heap leach technology are overblown, say company officials, asserting the heap leach technology is safe and won’t leak any chemicals into Carmacks’ water.

The process involves sprinkling crushed ore with a solution diluted with one per cent sulphuric acid. The acid reacts with copper, stripping it from the ore.

The rocks are spread out on leaching pads, which are made of impermeable liners covered with a granular material designed to control the flow of the toxic, acidic solution. That solution is recycled and reused, said Derome.

“It’s in a closed circuit, so all of this solution is recycled through the process,” she said.

“We will have a water-treatment plan in place, so that even during operations there will not be any possibility that water will be discharged that hasn’t been treated,” she said.

Environmentalists fear that using the leaping pads in the North is dangerous.

“We’re talking about unproven technology here in the North,” said Lewis Rifkind, an energy co-ordinator for the Yukon Conservation Society. “It’s been used in the American southwest in a completely different hydrological environment.”

Western Copper contests the notion that it’s been untested, pointing to a heap leach gold mine run at Drury Creek in the early 1990s.

The Yukon government had decided to treat the Western Copper plan like a testing phase in itself.

“What happens if (the test) doesn’t work?” said Rifkind. “We’re stuck with a big mound of sulphuric acid and toxified waste.”

The risk is that with permafrost melting, the soil might shift and tear the protective liners—especially when they have tons of rock sitting on them.

While Derome was happy to describe how the liners work, she did not say what kind of material the liners are made of.

Contact James Munson at