Early-stage mineral exploration near Whitehorse sparks concern from nearby residents

An area on the Whitehorse copper belt. Gladiator Metals is drilling nearby causing concern for some neighbours. (Leslie Amminson/CBC)

B.C.-based Gladiator Metals is drilling on the Whitehorse copper belt

A B.C-based mining company is drilling on the Whitehorse copper belt, and that’s raising concerns from people in nearby neighbourhoods.

Gladiator Metals acquired the project from local company H. Coyne and Sons last year. Drilling in the area this spring has mostly centred on the former Whitehorse Copper mine, according to Kell Nielsen, the company’s vice-president of exploration.

At this stage, the work is focused on confirming what resources lie in the area.

“That’s our main thing, is just to see what’s here,” Nielsen said. “And we do that through drilling predominantly.”

The drill sites are accessible off the South Klondike Highway, just a few minutes outside Whitehorse and beside Cowley Creek. Drill trails were established there as part of mining operations in the 1970s and ’80s, but residents of neighbouring subdivisions say they now use those trails for recreation. And, they say, the work has torn up the area.

Residents concerned

“It’s a horrific mess,” said Glenys Baltimore, who lives in the Cowley Creek subdivision, near the work site. “There are huge ruts in the clay sand, land has been exposed.”

Glenys Baltimore lives in the Cowley Creek subdivision. She says drilling nearby has caused mess and disturbance. (Leslie Amminson/CBC)

Baltimore said she and her neighbours weren’t notified of the work and it came as a surprise.

James Minifie, who lives in nearby Mary Lake, said he was biking on the trails with his son when he noticed there’d been activity there.

Minifie said he isn’t against mining, and understands there’s a need for the industry. Still, he was unhappy to find a company drilling so near to where he lives without public consultation.

“It was just alarming to kind of see that somebody could go in there, and really, without much permitting, you know, do that kind of damage,” he said.

Inspection report points to problems

Gladiator Metals has a class one permit under the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources (EMR) to do the exploration work.

That type of permit doesn’t require review through the Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Board (YESAB). It does require notification for affected First Nations.

A May 12 inspection report from the Yukon’s Department of Energy, Mines and Resources found several problems at the site, including rutting and gouging on the road and seeping drill fluid.

Some of the effects of drilling along trails near Cowley Creek. Residents of the area say they’re surprised and concerned by the work. (Leslie Amminson/CBC)

Nielsen admits there have been challenges and said work is underway to clean things up, but the company has stopped drilling as a result, even though it wasn’t directed to.

Nielsen said issues were caused in part by spring melt.

“When we came out in winter, we were on packed snow, frozen ground,” he said. “That snow then melted and the clay just became mud. So just moving around, we created, basically, damage to the drill access tracks that exist.”

Plans to move forward

Gladiator Metals plans to apply for a class three permit to do further drilling in the area. That would trigger a YESAB review.

As for future plans, Nielsen said work is in very early stages, and choosing to move forward depends a lot on what’s found through drilling.

A stone showing copper mineralization just outside Whitehorse. Gladiator Metals is testing drill cores in the area. (Leslie Amminson/CBC)

“We probably won’t see that a mine would be created in the next decade,” he said. “It’s going to take longer. There’s a lot of processes that need to go through.”

Baltimore said nearby residents would likely oppose any further permitting.

“We believe that it’s not appropriate to have a mining operation that close to a residential subdivision,” she said.

Bar for consultation could be lowered

Sebastian Jones, who works with the Yukon Conservation Society, said residents had reached out to him with some concerns about the scope of the current work.

Jones said a “surprising” amount of work is allowed under a class one permit, but that permitting system could change when the territory introduces new mineral legislation.

“It is likely that the bar for a YESAB review will be lowered to capture activities such as this,” Jones said. “I hope they would be in that new legislation.”

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Tłı̨chǫ gov’t and mining company reach agreement, keeps 4 sites protected, CBC News

Russia: Mining comes to end in Nikel, Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: BLM proposes allowing ConocoPhillips to drill most of its Arctic Willow project, Alaska Public Media

Leslie Amminson, CBC News

Leslie Amminson is a journalist working with CBC's bureau in Whitehorse. You can reach Leslie with story tips and ideas at leslie.amminson@cbc.ca.

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