Faro Mine: Monthly Archives - June 2007
Whitehorse Star: Plans for Faro mine whittled down
June 29, 2007
By Chuck Tobin, Whitehorse Star
Cleaning up the Faro open pit mine will take centuries at a cost that could top out at $850 million in today's dollars, according to the most recent closure plan released on Wednesday.
"We are looking at a project that will probably last 500 years," Stephen Mead, project manager for the Faro mine project, told reporters during an afternoon briefing to discuss the six options for closure and remediation of the site.
"We do not have a walk-away option for permanent closure."
The majority of the major remediation work required will take between 10 and 12 years once it starts in and around 2012. Though dealing with 40 years of tailings and the residual contamination could take 30 or 40 years, Mead explained.
Regardless of what combination of options are employed, figures presented show the cost of babysitting the once mighty economic engine for several hundred years will run between $2.7 and $4.5 million - annually. Whatever plan is selected, there'll be a need for ongoing water treatment and monitoring.
The Faro lead-zinc mine began operations in 1969, giving rise to what became the second largest community in the Yukon. Through the years, it had its ups and downs, the final death knell sounding in 1998 as Anvil Range headed into bankruptcy.
Because the mine was permitted by the federal government, Ottawa is covering the entire cost of looking after the mine.
This year, for example, the annual budget is $14.6 million. And Ottawa will also cover the entire cost of the reclamation project.
Mead said the last year has been spent consulting and studying an array of options and refining the 12 alternatives down to a list of five options to manage the three open pits and the tailings area.
"One of the major milestones has been what we call the independent technical review," said Mead.
He said technical analysis, delivered in March by the team of experts, has approved the final list of options as technically sound.
What's left now is finalizing the closure plan over the next year to the satisfaction of the federal and Yukon governments, the Selkirk First Nation and the Ross River Dena Council, Mead said.
He said the aim is to recommend a final option to Ottawa in 2008 for initial funding approval, and then begin two years of work going through the environmental screening and other permitting processes.
The year 2011 will be dedicated to securing final federal approval for funding, with actual implementation of the closure plan beginning in 2012.
He pointed out there are three distinct remediation projects which can go ahead prior to final approval, starting as early as this season.
Cost estimates for the three were received yesterday, and the information was forwarded to Ottawa for review.
Mead said the estimates should be available to the public next month.
Some early remediation work can go ahead as it will need to be done under any of the final options, and does not require additional permit approvals, he said.
In addition to finalizing the closure plan, the Faro mine project team is also preparing a search for a company to take over the care and maintenance of the property from 2009 until the main closure and remediation work begins under contract in 2012.
The interim receiver, Deloitte and Touche, have indicated they hope to be signing off on the file in 2009, Mead explained.
He said the project team is currently preparing an invitation to have companies submit their qualifications if they're interested in the care and maintenance contract.
Of the $14.6 million budgeted for the Faro mine this year, $7.6 million is earmarked for care and maintenance, such as the ongoing water treatment.
Another $2.5 million will be spent on studies required for the permitting process, $2.7 million to fund the project team and the consulting work they require. There is also a number of smaller budget items, such as the ongoing program to cut down abandoned equipment for sale as scrap metal.
Part of the care and maintenance work, for instance, has resulted in a higher quality of treated water as a part of the former mill has been converted into an additional water treatment system, it was pointed out.
There are currently 38 people employed at the Faro mine, compared to the normal crew of five to eight during the winter.
The final options involve using water monitors and a slurry line to move all or some of the tailings back into the main Faro pit. It is the largest of the three pits that put Faro and the Yukon on the global map as a primary source of lead and zinc. There's also the option of covering some or all of the tailings with soil.
Similarly, options involve moving some of the waste rock from 40 years of mining back into the Faro and Vangorda pits, or covering it with soil and resloping and revegetating the piles. There are also a number of alternatives for managing and rerouting the diversion channels that were created.
Whatever options are chosen, it was emphasized during the briefing, there'll be a need water treatment and monitoring, for centuries to come.
The three open pits will remain open pits forevermore, though they will be guarded by a berm and signage warning of cliff-like edges. One of the options, however, calls for filling in the Vangorda pit, and rerouting the Vangorda Creek to its original stream course across the top.
Even if the option to move some or all of the tailings back into the Faro pit, along with some waste rock, there is not near enough material to fill it up, it was explained.
Faro pit, the largest of them all, measures 1,675 metres across at its longest point, 970 metres wide and is 335 metres deep at its deepest point. The Grum measures 1,100 metres by 700 metres and is 200 metres deep. The Vangorda measures 1,150 by 300 and is 150 metres deep.
Using different combinations of the remediation alternatives for the three pits and the tailings area, there is a possibility of six options to choose from.
The least expensive option calls for covering the tailings and waste rock where they sit with soil and revegetate. It would be at a cost of $250 to $430 million, creating an estimated 650 person years of work.
The most expensive option suggests pumping all the tailings back into the Faro pit and filling in the Vangorda pit with waste rock, while covering and resloping the other waste rock areas. The cost is estimated at $590 million to $850 million, creating an estimated 1,210 person years of work.
Bill Slater, the project teams technical manager, suggested one might ask why not just continue with the annual care and maintenance costs, and avoid what could be a huge capital cost for the closure and remediation work.
The site as it sits is an environmental hazard, he emphasized. Slater said care and maintenance efforts are currently able to handle the site, that won't always be the case if something isn't done now.
The situation will only get worse as rain water that leached through the site over years and years, and has not yet shown up, will show up, he said.
Slater said they are just now seeing additional ground water contamination showing up from the original waste rock pile started 40 years ago.
They know there is contaminated water moving slowly along beneath the tailings point that they are not capturing, he said, adding remediation plans address the need to capture and treat that water when it begins showing up below the tailings years down the road.
"Right now we need to assess these alternatives and how they fit with the values and objectives of the communities," Mead said of the work ahead in the coming year to chose an option. "That is the process we are in now."
The project team held an open house in Whitehorse last night to explain the work.
Originally published Thursday, June 28, 2007. Reprinted with Permission.
Community Meetings to be held in June 2007
June 4, 2007
Public meetings are being held this month in Ross River, Pelly Crossing, Faro, and Whitehorse. Members of the Faro Project Management Team will provide information and updates on:
- current activities towards closure and remediation;
- closure and remediation alternatives; and
- timelines and next steps.
Meeting dates are:
June 13 at 10 a.m. - Ross River - see Kathlene Suza for details
June 14 at 10 a.m. - Pelly Crossing - see Ellie Marcotte for details
June 16 at 9:30 a.m. - Town of Faro - see the town office for details
June 27 at 7 p.m. - Whitehorse - Gold Rush Inn Townhall