In Yukon, a familiar story of a shuttered mine, a bankrupt company and unpaid cleanup bills

In our latest newsletter, we examine how Yukon’s lax oversight of the resource sector has left taxpayers to foot the bill — a problem that is repeating itself across Canada

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Here’s what we’re digging into this week: 

A shuttered mine, a bankrupt company and tens of millions in unpaid bills: this is a tale that spans six decades, two mines and one territory. And it’s a reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Yukon’s only asbestos mine closed in 1978. Yet to this day, the public is told to stay away from the Clinton Creek site or risk inhaling the cancer-causing fibres. The area is also susceptible to “extreme” flash floods, not to mention possible river pollution.

Yukon Clinton Creek asbestos hazard sign

A sign posted at the Clinton Creek Mine site by the Government of Yukon.

Now the federal government is pledging funds to finally fix the mess decades after the responsible company plunged into bankruptcy without paying for remediation. But as Julien Gignac reports, there’s still no formal plan in place — and we don’t know how much it will cost or when work will get underway.

Travel roughly 900 kilometres southeast and you’ll reach the Wolverine mine, where production work lasted a grand total of three years before Yukon Zinc closed things down in 2015. The Yukon government is now trying to recoup $25 million in cleanup liabilities — money the company should have paid before it went bankrupt.

Who pays for the cleanup costs? From oil and gas wells to the oilsands to mines across Canada, it’s a question we are continually forced to return to — and for good reason. Time after time, bankruptcies and financial struggles in the natural resources sector expose massive gaps in government oversight, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.

In Yukon’s case, these gaps are coming under scrutiny as two massive mining projects are proposed for the territory: Coffee Gold and Casino Mine. If built, they would be the largest gold mines in Yukon’s history.

The territory is exploring reforms, but it remains unclear whether these changes would protect taxpayers. B.C. is facing many of the same challenges, and experts that without a major overhaul, the public will be left on the hook.

“I think we’re going to get more and more Wolverine mines if we keep doing this the way we’re doing it,” said Lewis Rifkind, mining analyst at the Yukon Conservation Society. “We’ve learned nothing.”

Take care and clean up your messes,

Arik Ligeti
Audience Engagement Editor

This week in The Narwhal

Yukon First Nation calls on territory to abolish ‘colonial’ claim staking process for mines

Fortymile River Yukon dredge placer mining

By Julien Gignac

As the territorial government works toward a mineral development strategy, Carcross/Tagish First Nation urges an overhaul of the free entry system that it says puts rights in the hands of miners and removes it from Indigenous Peoples. Read more.

Vopak’s proposed Prince Rupert fuel export terminal: 7 things you need to know

Ridley Island, Prince Rupert, B.C.

By Matt Simmons

Running at full capacity, the Vopak Pacific Canada facility would bring 240 rail cars filled with combustibles through northwest B.C. every day and send 150 tankers across the Pacific each year. Read more.

Flood infrastructure: ‘the biggest salmon habitat issue you’ve never heard of’

Chum fry hiding in marginal grass

By Stephanie Wood

Along B.C.’s Fraser River, concrete obstructions block 1,500 kilometres of fish habitat and ‘meat grinder’ pump stations kill fish. Critics say it’s time for fish-friendly flood control. Read more.  

Australia just committed $650 million to Indigenous rangers programs. Should Canada do the same?

Heiltsuk Guardian Watchman Jordan Wilson

By Jimmy Thomson

As the federal government crafts its COVID-19 economic recovery plan, Indigenous leaders argue investments in guardian programs can create thousands of jobs, while protecting the land and healing communities. Read more

Arctic Ocean acidification could reach levels far greater than predicted if emissions stay high: study

Arctic Ocean ice floe acidification

By Julien Gignac

The cold waters of the planet’s north are highly susceptible to carbon absorption and under a ‘business as usual’ climate change scenario the impacts to marine ecosystems and food chains could be dire. Read more

What we’re reading

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