Cleanup plan for Yellowknife's Con Mine mine under scrutiny

A public meeting tomorrow will focus on the clean-up plan for Yellowknife's "other" gold mine.

Con mine remediation plan subject of public meeting Tuesday

A view of part of the Con Mine property in Yellowknife. The Robertson headframe overlooks arsenic-laden tailings ponds. (CBC)

A public meeting tomorrow will focus on the clean-up plan for Yellowknife's "other" gold mine.

Regulators, environmentalists and people who live a stone's throw from the shut down Con Mine will get a chance to have their say on the clean-up plan developed by the mine's owner, Newmont Mining Corporation.

The clean up of Con Mine, which closed in 2003 after operating for 65 years, is similar to Yellowknife's more well known Giant Mine, which had its clean-up plan approved by the federal government last year, in many ways except one: it doesn't have hundreds of thousands of tonnes of highly toxic arsenic dust stored beneath it.

But, like Giant, Con Mine has a half century's worth of arsenic-rich mine waste in tailings ponds throughout the mine site, located on Great Slave Lake on the east side of Yellowknife. Arsenic concentrations in those ponds can range up to 5,000 parts per million.

Though Con was the Northwest Territories' first gold mine, opening in 1938, its cleanup has been overshadowed in recent years by the spectre of Giant Mine, and a billion dollar clean-up the public was left to pay for.

A study almost 15 years ago done by the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., estimated that soil in the territory's capital has concentrations of between 3 and 150 parts per million.

But officials with the mine have previously said the arsenic in the tailings ponds is not dangerous — it's not the kind of arsenic that can easily be absorbed by plants and animals.

At a technical hearing, a company official for Newmont once said you could eat a quart of the tailings and it would do you no harm. Based on that understanding, the company changed the design of its covers for the tailings ponds to reduce clean-up expenses, covering some with a layer of crushed rock. 

On others, it's proposing to do little more than grow plants to prevent erosion.

The public meeting is being hosted by the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board. It is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. until noon on Tuesday. Originally scheduled to take place in the MVLWB boardroom, the location has been changed to the Explorer Hotel's Katimavik A meeting room.


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