Implementing the final closure plan for the second-worst contaminated site in Canada should begin in five years, says the federal official in charge.
Lou Spagnuolo of the Faro Mine Remediation Project outlined a schedule for the future of a $500-million-plus project at a technical briefing Monday in Whitehorse.
The intent is to have the proposal to clean up the mine site before the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board for review by next spring, explained the director of the remediation project.
He said officials expect to follow up with an application to the Yukon Water Board in 2019.
Spagnuolo said they anticipate having the required regulatory approval from the water board in 2021. Construction and implementation of the closure plan would begin in 2022.
It was decided back in 2009 that the best approach to remediate the site was to stabilize the tailings and waste rock where they lay and cover them with an impermeable layer. That would keep water out and eliminate the risk of acid rock drainage, he said.
Spagnuolo said among the highest of priorities to remediate the site is preventing toxic metals such as zinc leaching from the waste material.
Once a pillar of the Yukon’s economy after going into production in 1969, the Faro mine eventually expanded to three open pits, and was one of the largest lead-zinc operations in the world. It was abandoned in 1998.
As Ottawa was responsible for licensing mines in the Yukon back then, it is responsible for looking after the mess left behind.
It has spent in excess of $350 million in the last 19 years to care for the site and conduct some remediation work, such as covering the waste rock dump at the Grum Pit in 2010 with a metre of dirt and revegetating the cover.
“So roughly five years from now, we hope full construction will commence,” said Spagnuolo.
He pointed out how the project team is asking for public input until July 10 to help identify values in the area that will be used in the preparation of the submission to the assessment board.
• There are approximately 320 million tonnes of waste rock and 70 million tonnes of tailings to be managed at the site, according to estimates by the project team;
• Together, the waste material is enough to cover 26,179 football fields with a metre of material.
Dustin Rainey of the Yukon’s Department of Energy, Mines and Resources explained ongoing efforts to care for the site are largely focused on water management.
The goal is to divert clean water away from the site while ensuring contaminated water is treated before it leaves, said the Yukon’s senior project manager.
Rainey said there are 40 to 50 workers performing care and maintenance duties around the clock during the summer.
Water in three open pits, for instance, is treated and released every year to reduce levels and ensure there is enough room to accommodate annual precipitation and spring runoff, he said.
Spagnuolo said it’s expected the remediation project will take 10 to 15 years to complete.
It will be followed by an adaptive management phase of 20 to 25 years to monitor the work that has been completed to make sure it’s meeting objectives, he said.
He said it’s expected monitoring of the site will go on forever, as will the need to treat water accumulating in the three open pits.
Currently, the cost of the remediation project is expected to be in excess of $500 million.
That doesn’t include the cost of the annual care and maintenance required while remediation is being carried out, he said.
Spagnuolo said the Faro mine is seen as the second-worst contaminated site in Canada, behind the Port Hope radioactive site in Ontario.
The level of contamination at the Faro mine has also been compared to the level of contamination at the Giant mine in Yellowknife, he said.
Spagnuolo said one of the biggest challenges and lessons officials have learned to date is that the site continues to degrade, continues to change.
While care and maintenance and planning the remediation work continues, the project team has also identified “urgent” areas to be addressed while the team works through the regulatory process for the final plan, he explained.
Spagnuolo said they’ve identified the need to address seepage of contaminated water into Rose Creek as well as the need to beef up the integrity of the main tailings dam to today’s standards, which include earthquake resistant requirements.
The dam measures 700 metres across and is 40 metres high, he noted, adding they expect they’ll have to raise the height by five to 10 metres.
Spagnuolo pointed out how the project has involved input from First Nations and local communities.
The Kaska Faro Secretariat representing the interests of the Ross River Dena Council, the Liard First Nation and the Kaska Dena Council was created formally last year, he noted.
Spagnuolo said the team is also in constant contact with the municipality of Faro.
One of the goals of the remediation project is to maximize employment economic opportunities for Yukoners, he pointed out.
In addition to the care and maintenance staff on site, he said, there will be an additional 50 to 70 people on site while the project team tackles the “urgent” work.
During the 10 to 15 years of the main remediation, it’s expected there will be an additional 75 to 100 on site, he said.
Spagnuolo said during remediation, it’s likely there will be staff flying in and flying out, some accommodated in camps on site and others housed in Faro.
Since the site was abandoned, there have been one million hours of employment created, two-thirds of which have gone to northerners and indigenous personnel, and 30,000 hours of training provided, he said.
“Socio-economic interests, including job training ... is very key to delivering this project, and we have heard that from the communities over the last week.”
This year’s expenses for the mine site is estimated at $40 million. Items include:
• $14 million to $15 million for care and maintenance;
• $10 million to $12 million to address the urgent work;
• $5 million to advance the regulatory applications;
• $2 million to $3 million for monitoring; and
• $2 million for consultation and public engagement.