Whitehorse Daily Star

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TOXIC TONNAGE – Waste rock from the Faro open pit (at right) is among the 320 million tonnes of waste at the mine site that has to be eventually covered and kept dry to prevent acid rock drainage. Inset Lou Spagnuolo, left, Dustin Rainey

Abandoned site will require care forever

Implementing the final closure plan for the second-worst contaminated site in Canada should begin in five years, says the federal official in charge.

By Chuck Tobin on June 27, 2017

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.

Comments (13)

Up 0 Down 0

loraine on Aug 10, 2017 at 9:07 am

This is insanity. Change the name of the town Faro, why keep that horrifying name after they claimed bankruptcy, left after making billions over 30 years and leave the disaster for the government and the people of Canada to pay mega clean up costs. 500 million plus. So disturbing, too often the story of mining has the same or similar outcomes. Imperial metals at Mount Polly got 40 million from the provincial government to clean up after a collapsed tailing pond sent all the contamination held for years into the rivers and lakes around that area. Now they have expanded the operation and have a bigger tailing pond.

Up 0 Down 0

TVH on Aug 8, 2017 at 4:28 pm

and we learned.....NOTHING.

Up 2 Down 0

Torsten on Jul 2, 2017 at 5:17 pm

Typical Yukon! Millions for consultants and fancy graphics while nothing gets done. Nothing to see here folks, move along. See you at next years spending spree update.

Up 4 Down 1

YukonMax on Jul 1, 2017 at 10:08 am

"Spagnuolo said the team is also in constant contact with the municipality of Faro."
Is the Town of Faro at the table along with The Kaska Faro Secretariat? What incentive does Faro get to be involved THIS TIME? Resources from the Town of Faro have always been used to fill requests for information about the mine, from the industry because even though the Town had lobbied many years to get a seat at the table, it was always denied. When request to partially fund a mining officer in Faro, it was always denied.

Up 14 Down 0

mary laker on Jun 29, 2017 at 5:41 pm

$5 million to 'advance regulatory applications' ??!!!!???
That is insane!

And $2 million for consultation and public engagement?!!
That is for ONE YEAR!

I believe people are losing all perspective here. This is a ton of money, worse than adscam.

Up 4 Down 0

ProScience Greenie on Jun 28, 2017 at 12:46 pm

ProScience Greenie on Jun 28, 2017 at 8:28 am - not the real PSG, must be the same serial doppelganger weenie that hangs about our news media outlets trying to be clever by hijacking other's usernames.

Up 13 Down 14

jeff frketich on Jun 28, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Yes, mining is great. The shareholders of this project did well. Of course they only did well because they put the billion dollar clean up bill on the public.

Yes, mining is great.

Up 8 Down 8

ProScience Greenie on Jun 28, 2017 at 8:28 am

Let's hope our government economic developers have learned a lesson or two since/from this fiasco. Jobs at the cost of the environment is not the way to go.

Up 13 Down 12

just me on Jun 27, 2017 at 10:13 pm

Isn't mining grand? Who says nothing lasts forever! The Casino Mine dam is going to last forever too. It will be just outside of Carmacks and will be higher than the Hoover Dam outside of Las Vegas - which is one of the engineering marvels of the USA.

Maybe people will come up for tours of the Casino Mine dam. Instead of holding back drinking water, it will hold back hundreds of millions of tons of tailings and waste from exploding down the valley into the Yukon River. It would make Mt. Polley look like a lego project. But of course the dam will last forever, so there's nothing to worry about. Like with Faro.

Up 8 Down 12

Yukoner on Jun 27, 2017 at 10:00 pm

Lou S says 1 million hours of employment (2000 hrs' per year is a FT job) over let's say 20 years (1998 shut down to now) is 25 FT jobs on site each year (averaged). They are saying 2/3rds (17 jobs) are northerners or indigenous. I don't think so! I bet you there may be at best 1 FN person there at any one time. Definitely no real jobs going to Ross River, the most affected community by the Faro mine.

Up 13 Down 3

Wundering on Jun 27, 2017 at 5:49 pm

Mining the "gift that keeps on giving", jobs forever.

Up 21 Down 4

jc on Jun 27, 2017 at 4:34 pm

Just leave it alone and let it go back to nature. Nature always takes care of itself. Look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is not even close to what that was. These environuts make me sick. The sky is falling, the sky is falling.

Up 23 Down 0

ProScience Greenie on Jun 27, 2017 at 4:06 pm

What would the real clean up cost be if the sweet gravy train factor was eliminated?

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