Damage at Yukon's Eagle mine site could be 'worst-case scenario,' says local mayor

The mayor of Mayo, Yukon, says a heap leach failure and slide reported Monday at the Eagle gold mine will have a "huge impact" on his community, and the territory as a whole.

Mayor Trevor Ellis said he's shocked by the incident which has indefinitely halted operations at the mine.

"'Catastrophic' would probably be, from what I'm hearing, would probably be a good way to describe it," he said of the incident.

Few details about what happened and the extent of the damage at Victoria Gold's mine site have been made public. In a brief statement on Monday, the company said the heap leach pad at the mine site - about 80 kilometres north of Mayo - experienced a failure, and that there had been "some damage to infrastructure and a portion of the failure has left containment."

According to the Yukon Workers' Safety and Compensation Board on Monday, the heap leach failure "led to a material slide" at the mine site.

The heap leach facility at the Eagle mine uses a cyanide solution to percolate through ore, stacked in 10-metre layers, to dissolve gold. The company's website says approximately a million tonnes of ore is processed each month by that method.

Ellis said he was pleased to hear that no one was hurt in the incident on Monday.

"Now we just hope and pray that everything is OK environmentally, that, you know, a lot of this kind of toxic effluent didn't make it into a water course. And if it did, that they've been able to contain it and mitigate the damage to the environment," he said.

Mayo Mayor Trevor Ellis said it's business as usual in his community, but if the Reverse Creek fire prompts an evacuation alert — he said people will go door-to-door to get the word out. 'I think we're ready for anything,' he said.
Mayo Mayor Trevor Ellis said he's happy that no one was hurt in the incident at the mine site. 'Now we just hope and pray that everything is OK environmentally,' he said. (Submitted by Trevor Ellis)

Ellis said there's a lot of speculation around town about what this might mean for the future of the mine, which employs up to 500 people when at full operations. Ellis hopes the incident won't mean a prolonged shutdown, or "the end of the mine."

He said that he was involved in lots of planning meetings as a town councillor years ago, when the mine was initially being developed.

"It always seemed to be the worst-case scenario, was what happened today," he said on Monday.

"To me, I think it's a sad day for the territory as a whole."

'Appalling and deeply concerning': NDP leader

Yukon NDP Leader Kate White, who's also her party's mines critic, said Monday that she was also grateful that no one was hurt at the Eagle mine but said "there are a lot of questions" about what exactly happened.

She called the incident "appalling and deeply concerning."

"Of course, no one plans for this kind of engineering disaster — I'll call it a 'disaster' at this point or a, like, engineering failure — but the truth is that when we talk about containing toxic chemicals, that there is always going to be a risk," she said.

"And you know, this is just proving that that risk is unacceptable."

White pointed to other notorious mine projects in the Yukon, such as the abandoned Faro, Wolverine and Minto mines — all of which are now sites under prolonged government care — and also said the heap-leach process used at the Eagle mine has "raised concerns in the past."

"This can't be the future of mining in the Yukon. This absolutely can't keep going," she said.

When construction at the mine site began in 2017, Lewis Rifkind of the Yukon Conservation Society cited the heap leach process as one of his concerns about the project, but said any environmental risks could be mitigated and controlled, "as long as the right monitoring is done."