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YESAB establishing in-person review process for Casino mine

Public has until Feb 17 to provide comments
Western Copper and Gold Corporation CEO Paul West-Sells after speaking with media in Whitehorse on Aug. 25, 2022. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

Draft guidelines have been issued for the Casino mine’s panel review.

It was published by the Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) on Jan. 3. Yukoners have until Feb. 17 to submit comments on the draft guidelines.

The Casino copper-gold project, located south of Dawson City and west of Pelly Crossing, constitutes a first in the Yukon on many levels: size, scale, complexity and process.

The size and scale of the project were determined in a 2014 YESAB submission, but in 2016 YESAB’s executive committee determined that a panel review was required due to two main considerations: the proposed tailings management facility and adverse effects on the resident Klaza caribou herd.

That 2016 decision sent Casino’s mining technologists to work at improving their water treatment process.

The caribou in the area were collared, tracked and counted, while construction of the southern end of the mining project’s access road, the $29.6-million Carmacks bypass project, moved towards it’s 2024 completion date.

This will be the first panel review conducted by YESAB.

Size and scale

Casino, a copper, gold, molybdenum and silver open-pit mine, is promoted as being amongst the largest copper-gold deposits in the world. Casino Mining is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Western Copper and Gold Corporation.

CEO Paul West-Sells has been involved with the project since 2006.

While the Casino project works its way through the environmental assessment process, the project is also being assessed for viability and financial profitability by Rio Tinto, the world’s second-largest metals and mining corporation. Rio Tinto purchased a stake in the company last year for $25 million and eight per cent of the shares to work closely with Casino and conduct due diligence for a possible full or partial acquisition. On Nov. 23, that agreement was extended for another year.

West-Sells told Bloor Street Capital on Dec. 8 that the company is still shopping the project to other large producers with deep enough pockets to pay for the whopping start-up costs.

In the same interview, West-Sells said that with $30 million left at the end of the third quarter, all efforts in 2023 will go towards the permitting process.

Up front in West-Sell’s pitch is a projected 27-year mine life, early high-grade numbers over the first four years and a present net value of $2.3 billion when the mine is ready. The project is anticipated to produce approximately 6.95 million ounces of gold, 36.09 million ounces of silver, 4.27 billion pounds of copper and 346 million pounds of molybdenum. In the same interview, he said the geology of the site presents a possibility of a much longer mine life if not for water treatment constraints.

Casino is using both conventional milling and heap leaching to produce concentrate and gold and silver ore to be shipped to refineries. Tailings and waste rock will be placed in a large tailings management facility. This is the part of the project has seen substantial changes from its 2014 iteration.

At an Aug. 25 briefing with media, West-Sells took the opportunity to describe the redesign and changes made to the waste water treatment facility — mainly in its placement on the site and the volume of water required. He said the amount of water stored on site to prevent acid rock drainage has been significantly reduced. He credited the learning and re-evaluation that took place after the Mount Polley mine disaster as spurring new ways of treating and holding water. Casino’s closure plans now call for the subaqueous disposition of waste rock to be kept underground, so there is no lake above the surface.

The mine will employ a peak of approximately 1,400 people during construction and approximately 600 to 700 people during operations, planned to work two weeks in and two weeks out.

Cumulative effects span five First Nations territories

Different parts of the project affect the traditional territories of five different First Nations in the Yukon. The mine site (and part of the access road) sits firmly in traditional territory of Selkirk First Nation. The southern portion of the access road falls across the traditional territory of Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation.

The mine’s water supply pipeline comes from within the traditional territory of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in; Kluane First Nation’s traditional territory is located downstream of the proposed mine; and aspects of the project are within the asserted traditional territory of the White River First Nation.

The mining company is in the process of developing impact benefits agreements with all the affected First Nations that reflect their varied interests. West-Sells said Casino Mining paid for consultants and independent project assessments for each of those First Nation governments.

Panel review guidelines

A panel review is different from the usual assessments in that it relies on oral testimony, rather than written submissions and responses. West-Sells believes it will be faster in that issues will be raised the form of a conversation between people, rather than waiting for written responses. Testimonies and dialogue will be recorded verbatim. The number and location of meetings is yet to be determined.

The mine will require construction of a power plant and is currently proposing to generate its own electrical power using liquefied natural gas. The longer-term solution for the mine is pitched as a new connection between the Yukon and British Columbia hydro-electric grids.

According to the draft panel guidelines documents, Casino will construct a new all-weather gravel road connecting the project to the existing Freegold Road. The nearby Coffee Gold project recently recommended by YESAB is building an access road north to Dawson City.

Both the Coffee and the Casino roads are identified as project components within the Gateway to Resources project, with the respective contributions of government and industry yet to be settled.

The Casino section north of the Carmacks bypass, which has an estimated 90 culverts and bridge crossings, is included in the project and will be assessed in the panel review, along with the open pit, the processing facilities, bunkhouses, waste rock piles and airstrip.

The YESAB website is migrating the project to one location in the future, but for now the website instructs people to visit or go to the 2014-0002 or 2022-0154 projects pages. People can receive notifications about this project, by clicking the “Follow” button beside the title.

Contact Lawrie Crawford at