An emergency project across the international border could throw a wrench into the way a Yukon mine gets its minerals to tidewater.
The ore terminal in Skagway, Alaska is at risk of being demolished by spring 2023 to make way for a new port for large cruise ships in next year’s tourism season.
Minto mine relies on that ore terminal. The mine’s website outlines the path the minerals take from the mine via trucks headed for the ore terminal. The concentrate gets stored at the ore terminal until there’s a sufficient load to ship to Japan.
The copper-gold mine, which is owned and operated by Minto Metals Corporation, is located 240 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse and has been producing since 2007.
The future of the ore terminal was raised by the Yukon Party during question period on Oct. 26.
“As the world talks about the importance of critical minerals, it’s paramount that Skagway has the appropriate infrastructure in place to ensure that Yukon critical minerals can move out to international ports,” Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai said in response.
“We’re looking at what the best infrastructure should be, whether that is a container system or, potentially, a modern ore loader.”
Pillai told the legislature that the Yukon government is spending $261,000 USD on design.
Following question period, Pillai told reporters the timing is a challenge.
“They want to remove this as quickly as possible so they can start construction on their new infrastructure,” he said.
Pillai said the Yukon government is trying to figure out a solution so Minto mine can continue to export minerals.
“We have to take into consideration two things: either there’s going to be some sort of an interim solution from these conversations, or we’re going to look at Minto having to go towards northern B.C. in the interim, before a permanent future solution is in place,” Pillai said.
“That’s where we’re at at this point.”
Pillai said he has brought up the issue to the prime minister’s office, federal ministers and U.S. counterparts.
He said conversations between the territorial government, the Alaskan municipality and the mining industry date back to 2018.
Pillai said the mine employs hundreds of workers and the economic potential down the line could be in the billions of dollars.
He said the problem is the legacy challenge of Faro mine contamination that is now being dealt with at the municipal level in Skagway.
“I have to make sure that we can ensure that we have strategies to support the industry and continue to see a fruitful but yet very respectful relationship with folks in Skagway at the same time,” Pillai said.
“We are confident, absolutely, that there’s going to be a modern, environmentally appropriate piece of infrastructure that’s in place that continues to get this concentrate to tidewater.”
The ore terminal is the subject of an evaluation sent in an October 2021 memo from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority executive director to board members.
“The key issue is the ongoing support for this type of industrial activity within the Skagway Harbor and the economic feasibility supporting a re-investment in the facilities at $25 to 54 million,” reads the memo.
“Based on the current configuration of the port and location of the [Skagway ore terminal], the evaluation report identified increasingly significant limitations on [Skagway ore terminal] availability to current and potential users given the order of priority to cruise ship traffic. Any restructuring of the port to address this declining availability to industrial activity remains subject to the determination of the Municipality of Skagway’s planning and investment for the port post-expiry of the current leases.”
Minto mine and the municipality did not respond by press time.
Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon told reporters Oct. 26 he is concerned about what impact the ore terminal’s demolition will have on the mining industry.
“We’re very concerned about what this means for Yukon’s economy and, in particular, those Yukoners who rely on Minto mine for employment,” he said.
Dixon is calling on the Yukon government to ask Skagway to delay the demolition until a solution is found.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com