No end in sight: New public meetings to discuss Faro mine cleanup

Yukoners are being asked their thoughts about one of Canada's most expensive remediation jobs. A series of public consultations begins today in Yukon to talk about the future of the Faro mine.

Project abandoned in 1998 is 'the largest contaminated site in Canada,' says Yukon Conservation Society

The Faro mine site is one of Canada's largest contaminated sites. It was abandoned in 1998 and the burden of cleaning it up has fallen to taxpayers. (Yukon Conservation Society)

A new round of public consultations begins today in Yukon to discuss one of Canada's top-four most contaminated sites

The effort to clean up — or at least contain — toxins at the abandoned Faro mine site has already taken nearly 20 years and cost more than $350 million. 

A federally funded group called the Faro Mine Remediation Project Team says it's looking to write a new remediation plan to be submitted to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.

Cleanup has not been easy since taxpayers inherited the burden from bankrupt owners. New challenges, such as increasing concerns over water contamination, have required old plans to be changed.

Meanwhile, the estimates for the total cleanup cost keep rising.  

The abandoned mine is on traditional Kaska territory, which is shared by the Ross River Dena Council and the Liard First Nation. The two First Nations do not have negotiated land claims.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is leading the remediation effort. 

The Government of Yukon's Department of Energy, Mines and Resources is in charge of ongoing care and maintenance with funding provided through the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan.

Community meetings scheduled

Meetings are set for: 

  • Ross River: Monday, June 19 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Ross River School
  • Town of Faro: Tuesday, June 20 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the recreation centre
  • Watson Lake: Thursday, June 22 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the recreation centre
  • Whitehorse: Wednesday, June 28 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Coast High Country Inn 

Dates and locations are yet to be announced for meetings in Carmacks and Pelly Crossing.

Advertisements from the Faro Mine Remediation Project Team say the entire process of consultation could take six months. 

Creek the colour of 'Coca-Cola'

Lewis Rifkind of the Yukon Conservation Society says true reclamation may not be possible. 

"I would easily say it's the largest contaminated site in Canada," he says. "It's one of those legacy projects. Realistically it will never be done. We're going to be treating water on that site forever. And we're going to be treating it using taxpayers' dollars." 

However, Rifkind says the site couldn't simply be fenced off and written off as a lost cause. 

He points to a picture of Rose Creek downstream of the Cross Valley Pond taken in June. It shows the river flowing with the colour he calls "Coca-Cola."

(Correspondence provided by YCS shows the federal government attributes the discolouration to excess iron content and pledges more investigation.)

"There's water treatment on site at the moment, but we have concerns with what's coming off the site," Rifkind says."We're eagerly awaiting water-test results."

The Faro Mine Remediation Project Team has not provided comment other than its public advertisements for the meeting.

It says the entire process of consultation could take six months. 

The Ross River Dena Council could not be reached for comment.


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