The Yukon government is keeping an eye on environmental concerns at the Ketza gold mine, now that the owner has officially abandoned the site.

As of April 10, Veris Gold stopped paying for care and maintenance of the mine site, located about 80 kilometres south of Ross River. Yukon is now using funds from the mine's security payment to pay for the work.

Robert Thomson

Robert Thomson, Yukon's director of compliance, monitoring and inspection, said the territorial government was aware for about a year that the mine was in financial trouble. (CBC)

Robert Thomson, Yukon's director of compliance, monitoring and inspection, said the government was aware for about a year that the mine was in financial trouble. He said there is no way the government can stop Veris Gold from walking away. 

"They had no more money for performing any of their duties," said Thomson.

"They were no longer in a position to pay any of the employees at the site and that's just a fact that we were confronted with. One we were anticipating but one that we couldn't prevent."

Inspectors on site

Thomson said the Government of Yukon has taken over care and maintenance of the site.

He said that over the past year, Yukon has had to step in and use some of the $3.1 million in security money to deal with maintenance concerns on the site. Water leaving the site untreated had to be collected and pumped back to the arsenic treatment plant, and work had to be done to ensure surface water wasn't going to flow into the tailing pond during spring runoff.

He said inspectors are now "ensuring that water does not leave the site untreated and ensuring that the tailing storage pond maintains its integrity and stability."

hi-lewis-rifkind-yukon

Lewis Rifkind of the Yukon Conservation Society says unless mines post their security deposit for cleanup up front they should not be permitted to operate. (CBC)

Just under $2 million of the security remains. 

There is no estimate yet on the cost of remediation.The mine was permitted before devolution, so the cost of the cleanup will fall to the federal government.

Nothing illegal

Lewis Rifkind of the Yukon Conservation Society said the mine has done nothing illegal by leaving taxpayers to clean up the site, and that's a problem.

"These companies have done nothing illegal; they have used the laws to their own benefit and there's nothing wrong with that because that's how the laws are set up," he said.

'It's time we learned.' - Lewis Rifkind

"It's time we learned from this long history of basically privatizing the profit but socializing the risk and expense of clean up. We have to change this. It's not good financially."

Rifkind pointed to Yukon Zinc, owner of Wolverine Mine, which is under creditor protection. The company still owes the Yukon government $3 million in security payments.

"Unless mining companies have the security deposit up front we should not be permitting these mining companies to proceed."

The Yukon government is now in talks with Ottawa about the cleanup of the Ketza mine site.