Western Copper plots next move

Western Copper Corporation is making the best of a bad situation, following the Yukon Supreme Court ruling that put the company's plans to build a mine near Carmacks on ice.

Western Copper Corporation is making the best of a bad situation, following the Yukon Supreme Court ruling that put the company’s plans to build a mine near Carmacks on ice.

“We’re disappointed,” said Paul West-Sells, the company’s president and chief operating officer. But the bright side to the setback is the precedent-making decision offers “some clarity” on the water board’s clout, he said.

Western Copper argued in court that the water board couldn’t outright deny it a licence, because the Carmacks project had already been approved by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.

Justice Ronald Veale disagreed. On Friday, he upheld the water board’s independence. To do otherwise “would completely eviscerate the licensing role of the water board,” he wrote.

Western Copper’s next move will be to sit down with regulators to assess what work will be needed to obtain a water licence, said West-Sells. The company may appeal the court decision, he said.

Conservationists are cheering the court decision. “It’s great news for the environment,” said Lewis Rifkind with the Yukon Conservation Society.

“The water board has said, ‘No, the Yukon won’t be a guinea pig for an unproven technology.’”

The company planned to use what’s known as heap-leach technology to strip copper from ore. It involves dousing rock piles with sulphuric acid. Critics say this technology has a spotty track record.

Copper is particularly dangerous to salmon. The metal damages a fish’s sense of smell, which in turn impedes a salmon’s ability to navigate.

Given the water board’s rejection of heap-leach technology, Rifkind wonders whether the company will need to drastically revise its mine plans, which would require it to submit a new application to the assessment board – a big setback.

The water board’s power to halt projects sets it apart from the assessment board, which can only make recommendations that the mining-friendly territorial government overrules as it sees fit.

Take the case of a placer mining project near Dawson City’s Midnight Dome subdivision. The assessment board rejected the proposal, but the territory overturned the decision.

The water board’s independence is especially needed now, said Rifkind, as the Yukon appears to be on the cusp of a new mining boom, with three operating hardrock mines, and more on the way.

Victoria Gold wants to have an open-pit gold mine open near Mayo by 2013. Selwyn Resources plans to open an underground mine at its massive lead and zinc deposit near the Northwest Territories border by early 2014.

And there are two big staking booms underway, which many expect to one day produce operating mines: one set off by Shawn Ryan’s discovery of the White Gold District near Dawson City, the other at ATAC Resources’ Rau property near Keno City.

The Carmacks deposit “only represents a small portion of Western Copper’s total assets,” the company noted in a news release. That’s true, but Carmacks was also the company’s most advanced project. It was intended to be a small, start-up mine that would help fuel the company’s exploration work at other sites, such as its massive Casino project.

The case also highlights the importance of mining companies winning the favour of First Nations. Both the Selkirk First Nation and the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation fought the mine proposal, fearing it could contaminate the nearby Yukon River.

“The message is very clear,” Chief Eddie Skookum of Little Salmon/Carmacks said in a release. “Proponents planning to develop projects in our traditional territory must work with us and must be committed to the principle of sustainable development in order to move forward.”

Contact John Thompson at


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

Just Posted

Team Togo member Katie Moen sits in a sled behind a snowmobile for the ride from the airport to Chief Zzeh Gittlit School. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Coming together: How Old Crow became one of the first communities in the world to be fully vaccinated

Team Togo and Team Balto assembled with a mission to not waste a single dose of vaccine

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. If council moves forward with bylaw changes, eating and drinking establishments could set up pop-up patios in on-street parking spaces. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Patios may be popping up in Whitehorse this summer

City considers program for downtown restaurants and bars

The Yukon Coroner's Service has confirmed the death of a skateboarder found injured on Hamilton Boulevard on May 2. Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News
Whitehorse man dies in skateboarding accident

Coroner urges the use of helmets, protective gear, while skateboarding.

The new Yukon Liberal caucus poses for a photo during the swearing-in ceremony held on May 3. (Yukon Government/Submitted)
Liberal cabinet sworn in at legislature before house resumes on May 11

Newly elected MLA Jeremy Harper has been nominated as speaker.

The Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s baby bison, born April 22, mingles with the herd on April 29. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Yukon Wildlife Preserves welcomes two bison calves

A bison calf was the first 2021 baby born at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve

A map provided by the Yukon government shows the location of unpermitted logging leading to a $2,500 fine. (Courtesy/Yukon government)
Man fined $2,500 for felling trees near Beaver Creek

The incident was investigated by natural resource officers and brought to court.

The site of the Old Crow solar project photographed on Feb. 20. The Vuntut Gwitchin solar project was planned for completion last summer, but delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it back. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Old Crow is switching to solar

The first phase of the community’s solar array is already generating power.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
One new case of COVID-19 in the Yukon

Case number 82 is the territory’s only active case

Flood and fire risk and potential were discussed April 29. Yukoners were told to be prepared in the event of either a flood or a fire. Submitted Photo/B.C. Wildfire Service
Yukoners told to be prepared for floods and wildland fire season

Floods and fire personelle spoke to the current risks of both weather events in the coming months.

From left to right, Pascale Marceau and Eva Capozzola departed for Kluane National Park on April 12. The duo is the first all-woman expedition to summit Mt. Lucania. (Michael Schmidt/Icefield Discovery)
First all-woman team summits Mt. Lucania

“You have gifted us with a magical journey that we will forever treasure.”

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

Whitehorse goings-on for the week of April 26

The Yukon Department of Education in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. The department has announced new dates for the 2021/2022 school year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Yukon school dates set for 2021/22

The schedule shows classes starting on Aug. 23, 2021 for all Whitehorse schools and in some communities.

Most Read