A new federal program will invest $2.2 billion over 15 years to remediate contamination in eight of the largest high-risk abandoned mine projects in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations has announced.
The Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program will start in 2020–2021 in Faro, United Keno Hill, Mount Nansen, Ketza River and Clinton Creek mines in the Yukon. In the Northwest Territories the program will address the Giant, Cantung and Great Bear Lake mines, with the latter consisting of multiple smaller sites in close proximity to each other.
“Indigenous and Northern communities must be able to meaningfully participate in and benefit from the Government of Canada’s investment in cleaning up northern contaminated sites,” announced Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, in a statement.
The contamination at these mines is the result of private sector mining, oil and gas work, as well as military activity, all of which “occurred more than 50 years ago, when environmental impacts were not fully understood,” the government states in a description of the new program.
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While the Northern Contaminated Sites Program is designed to manage contaminated sites in a cost-effective and consistent manner, the eight larger mine remediation projects fall under the Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program, announced in Budget 2019.
According to the federal government, the new program will “leverage expertise gained over 15 years of managing human and environmental health and safety risks at contaminated sites in the North and allow for longer-term tenders for work at the sites, providing greater certainty for impacted communities and economic opportunity for Indigenous people and northerners.”
The Clinton Creek Mine is an abandoned asbestos mine located approximately 100 km northwest of Dawson City, Yukon, in the traditional territory of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation. The completed conceptual remediation plan is anticipated for spring 2020, and all regulatory authorizations such as the environmental assessment, water license, and land use permit, will be in place by 2025. Remediation at the site is anticipated to start in 2026 and continue for four years.
Faro Mine was once the largest open pit lead-zinc mine in the world. Today, it is the site of one of the most complex abandoned mine remediation projects in Canada. It is located in south-central Yukon, near the town of Faro, on the traditional territory of the Kaska Nation, and upstream from Selkirk First Nation. Remediation work is expected to take about 15 years to complete, followed by ongoing care and maintenance, water treatment and long-term monitoring.
The Giant Mine, just 5 km from Yellowknife, was one of the longest-operating gold mines in Canada. When its owners went bankrupt, the federal government assumed responsibility for the site. In addition to other issues, the site has some 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide stored in mined-out voids. Full site remediation would begin in 2021 and is expected to take approximately 10 years, after which the site will move into long-term monitoring and ongoing care.
The Great Bear Lake Remediation Project will consist of projects that will include the capping of tailings at multiple sites, treatment of contaminated soils, proper disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste, and the removal of physical hazards. The remediation contract is anticipated for tender in the summer of 2021, and the five-year remediation period is anticipated to start summer 2022.
The Ketza River Mine is an abandoned gold and silver mine located in south-central Yukon, with a remediation plan to be completed in 2022.