Yukon judge fines Keno Hill mine company $100K over environmental risks

The Yukon court building in Whitehorse. The territorial court has fined the company behind the Keno Hill mine for violating operating licenses. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

Lawyers representing Alexco Keno Hill Mining Corp. entered guilty pleas

A Yukon judge has slapped a mining conglomerate with a $100,000 fine because of problems that put the environment at risk.

In a Whitehorse courtroom on Wednesday, Alexco Keno Hill Mining Corp., which operates a silver mine in central Yukon, pleaded guilty to failing to store hazardous waste properly and meet certain water quality standards.

In a brief ruling, presiding Yukon Territorial Court deputy judge Michael Block called the fine “substantial.”

Crown lawyer Sarah Bailey said the court typically sees cases involving smaller placer mining operations.

“These charges are slightly unusual for the Yukon,” she said.

Penalty precedent 

There’s a precedent for a penalty of this scale. Last fall, a judge ordered that Victoria Gold pay a $95,000 fine following a large spill of a cyanide solution at the Eagle gold mine site near Mayo, Yukon.

The charges against Alexco — now majority owned by the Idaho-based Hecla Mining Company, which also has mines in Alaska and Quebec — stem from an inspection by the Yukon government last summer. Among other things, natural resource officers found some ripped bags of copper sulphate, the contents of which spilled onto other bags or the floor and mixed with other compounds, including zinc sulphate. According to an agreed statement of facts, chemicals like sulphuric acid and bleach were also improperly stored outside.

The inspection report also states that water from the New Birmingham treatment system failed a quality test that involves placing rainbow trout fry into the sample. In an acceptable sample, 100 per cent of fish should live at least four days, but in the sample at Keno Hill, all of the fish died within 24 hours.

The agreed statement of facts states there were two failed tests at the water treatment plant. One involved the “over-dosing” of chlorine, used to remove ammonia from the mine water; as well, double the amount of sodium hypochlorite — or bleach — was pumped into the system.

The agreed statement of facts states there’s no evidence of environmental harm because of the offences, all of which happened between April 2022 and December 2023.

The document states the company is making improvements to, among other things, how it manages water, including increasing treatment capacity. Next year, the company plans to install more on-site water storage and filters to reduce waterborne particles.

The company has 60 days to pay the fine.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Victoria Gold takes Yukon Water Board to court over $74M increase to mine security, CBC News

Finland: Miners hunting for metals to battery cars threaten Finland’s Sámi reindeer herders’ homeland, The Independent Barents Observer

Lapland: The Arctic Railway – Building a future or destroying a culture?, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Significant metals discovery in key reindeer herding land in Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: UN experts call on Sweden to halt mining project on Indigenous Sami land, Eye on the Arctic

Julien Gignac, CBC News

Julien Gignac is a reporter for CBC Yukon. He can be reached at julien.gignac@cbc.ca.

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