LETTER: The Yukon government ‘plans to kill Keno’

Yvonne Bessette advocates for the Keno City transfer station

Keno City’s transfer station sits next door to an industrial mine site with waste disposal permits. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

Keno City’s transfer station sits next door to an industrial mine site with waste disposal permits. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

Thank you Lawrie Crawford for your article in the Yukon News on Sept. 17, “Rural communities face waste management closures.”

There are only five transfer stations operating in the Yukon – Keno City, Silver City, Braeburn, Johnson’s Crossing and Stewart Crossing. YTG originally announced that all five transfer stations would be closing. Then they silently cancelled the closure of the Stewart Crossing transfer station – no reason given, probably because YTG has a Dept. Of Highways garage there.

According to the 2018 Ministerial Advisory Committee Report on Solid Waste, page 2, Yukon has fourteen Unincorporated Community Landfills – three operated by YTG Dept. of Highways, eleven operated by YTG Community Services and there are five Transfer Stations, operated by YTG Community Services. The 14 Unincorporated Community Landfills have gates and attendants and hours of operation.

The five communities with Transfer Stations originally had landfills. In Keno, we had just de-commissioned our landfill which was approved by YTG and had a new pit dug when YTG came along with a huge burning vessel. Not a scrap of paper went into our new landfill – that was where they put the burning vessel. It was not an incinerator. In YTG’s August 2009 “Yukon Infrastructure Plan Public Consultation – What we Heard” – page 6, a resident in Burwash Landing was quoted as saying “Stop burning garbage at the dump – there are toxic fumes effects, especially birth defects and respiratory problems.”

Next on the agenda was taking away the burning vessel and installing bins at our dump. Why were fourteen Unincorporated Communities allowed then to have landfills that were gated, with attendants, while YTG drove the cost of our dump up sky high – by having a contractor come all the way from Whitehorse, a 600 mile round trip, to empty the bins. We asked many times to have the use of our dump restricted as we have industrial users – mines, reclamation company, drillers, placer miners, lodge within 100 miles using our dump. We asked that the dump have a gate, with a Keno resident attending once per week to open the dump to Keno residents only. YTG refused to restrict the use of our dump, as a consequence there was a lot of garbage in spring, summer and fall.

They could have at least have had the garbage trucked away to Dawson, which has a municipal dump, who accept garbage from outside their municipal boundaries. And the Mayo municipality is working with YTG to accept garbage from outside their municipal boundaries. I suppose they will accept the garbage from Stewart Crossing, the only transfer station left after YTG closes Keno, Braeburn, Johnson’s Crossing and Silver City.

YTG has fourteen Unincorporated Community Landfills. Keno, Braeburn, Johnson’s Crossing and Silver City should also be able to have gated landfills, with attendants just like they have. From Lawrie Crawford’s article in the Yukon News: “The streamlining standardization and rationalization of costs has been on the government agenda for many years. Higher standards, better processes, expectations of diversion ever-increasing quantities of waste and climate change urgencies are all adding to the pressure to do something. The president of Association of Yukon Communities Gord Curran, said ‘Some of the considerations were the need to manage better environmental risk, operating using clear standards, and have comparable user fees to all municipal and YTG sites. This meant that all sites needed attendants, gates and potentially, infrastructure upgrades. As a result, the potential for closing smaller facilities within a reasonable distance from regional facilities was discussed as part of the rationalization of services, but mainly by YTG since they operated the small sites.”

Richard Mostyn, Minister of Community Services, states in the article “I have no doubt that the elderly will find ways to carpool and work together and really build community around this as well. I mean, this is about innovation. I have every confidence in their ability to innovate and come up with solutions to this new way of dealing with our waste in the Territory, making for a cleaner, better territory.

Minister Mostyn, you are more than insulting. The elderly can carpool — oh yes, I can take three elderly people in my car, they can each have a bag of garbage on their laps. I get to use my trunk with two bags of garbage. We can drive 80 miles round trip, and on the way back from Mayo we can bring our groceries.

The real reason Keno has to lose its transfer station is to make way for Alexco’s expanded dry stack tailings facility, permitted by YTG in 2017, coming right up to our dump. YTG had already allowed our drinking water well to be destroyed by a drilling company in 2015, who were supposed to be “cleaning our well”.

Or was it the monitoring wells dug by Alexco paid for by the federal government, which were supposed to safeguard our water from one of the most toxic mines in the Yukon, the Onek 400 mine, in Keno. Alexco had the drilling company not just drill down to water, but had them drill all the way to bedrock so they could see how deep it was to bedrock. The monitoring well that killed our drinking water well was drilled in November 2013 right beside our drinking water well. Dug to bedrock of course. First sampled in February 2014. The same time YTG stopped taking water samples from our well. YTG did not sample our well from February 2014 until July 2015. In spite of being warned numerous times that if the Onek 400 water reached our well, the indicator would be that the SO4 (sulphate) level would increase three fold.

We have YTG’s results from our well from 1998 to 2016. Our sulphate level from 1998 onward was in the range of 100 mg/L range from 1998 to 23 February 2014. The next sample was 23 July 2015 when the SO4 level went to 423 mg/L and kept rising.

If you google the Yukon Online Registry you can find YESAB file 2018-0169. Document #2018-0169-128-1 is a submission from the Keno City Residents Council. On page 11 you can see the page of the results from 1998 to 2016. On page 12 the Keno City Residents Council states: “Loss of Community Fire Hall well and its effects: “The community has accepted that its well was irrevocably destroyed as a source of drinking water some time in 2014-2015. For some reason, there are about 15 months where there are no mineral test results by YTG from the well. As can be see from Figure 5-1 (page 11), the water went from drinkable to extremely polluted during this period… So far it has been impossible to ascertain from the data provided to the community whether the community drank this extremely contaminated water and for what length of time if any.”

My point is, YTG is killing our town. First we lost the well, then they took away our fire truck because we didn’t have water for the volunteer firefighters to practice with, then they disable the firehall so no truck could be filled with water. YTG has allowed the Silver Trail Highway from Elsa to Keno (10 miles) to completely deteriorate. Now they want to close our transfer station. We aren’t dying of old age fast enough – they want to force us out.

I can’t imagine that Silver City, Braeburn, Johnson’s Crossing had that much garbage – as we do in Keno from industrial users, drillers, placer miners, etc. But I think they had to be slated for closure to not make it too obvious YTG had plans to kill Keno.

Yvonne Bessette

Keno City

Letters to the editor