What We Heard: Faro Mine Remediation Project, summer 2017 public consultation summary

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Executive summary

The Faro Mine Remediation Project initiated a public engagement process in June 2017 to gather feedback on key environmental and socio-economic interests linked to the mine site.

The consultation is part of the environmental and socio-economic assessment process required for the project under the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act. Participants were consulted to validate the key topics and issues that the assessment should address.

In keeping with the Government of Canada's commitment to transparency, this report aims to provide a summary of the comments, questions and concerns expressed by the public during the consultations.

The Government of Canada is currently working to submit the project proposal for regulatory approvals, provide on-site care and maintenance and lead the final design of the remediation plan for the site. Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada is working closely with the Kaska Faro Secretariat in all phases of the project. Selkirk First Nation is being consulted and is actively involved in the review of the project proposal.

The Kaska Faro Secretariat was established in 2016 to represent the interests of the Kaska Nation (Ross River Dena Council, Liard First Nation, and Kaska Dena Council)in the Faro Mine Remediation Project. The secretariat will coordinate Kaska participation in the planning process and further enable the Kaska to be an effective and contributing partner in all phases of the project.

A project proposal summarizing the remediation project and its environmental and socio-economic effects is being prepared for submission to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board in spring 2018. The major construction phase will begin around 2022. It is expected to take about 15 years to complete, followed by 20 to 25 years of testing, monitoring and making any needed improvements to the site. Some high-priority areas of the Faro Mine site will always remain under active management and monitoring.

The consultation process

Phase 1

We conducted an initial, 30-day comment period from June 9 to July 10, 2017 to obtain comments on the environmental and socio-economic aspects that should be examined during the assessment process. Another 30-day comment period was opened from July 27 to August 28, 2017 at the request of a Yukon First Nation to allow for more time for them to provide input.

This first phase of the consultation process focused on gathering feedback on key environmental and socio-economic interests linked to the Faro Mine site. This includes topics such as water quality, fish and fish habitat, plants, wildlife and recreational activities in the Faro Mine area.

There were four main ways to participate in the first phase of the consultation:

  1. Complete a questionnaire (online or in-person)
  2. Attend a community meeting
  3. Send an email
  4. Send a letter

The feedback we received during this consultation period is being used to consider the impacts of the proposed remediation project activity on people, the environment and the economy. It will form part of the final project proposal we submit to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.

Phase 2

In 2018, the project team planned to conduct the second phase of the consultation process. The consultation was to report back to the public on what we heard in the initial phase, and review how concerns are to be addressed. The public would then be invited to provide feedback on our proposed mitigation measures that are intended to mitigate the project's impact on the economy, people and the environment.

Who we consulted

During the first phase of consultation, the Faro Mine Remediation Project team engaged with:

  • Ross River Dena Council
  • Liard First Nation
  • Kaska Dena Council
  • Selkirk First Nation
  • residents of the Yukon communities Faro, Carmacks, and Whitehorse
  • local governments
  • Yukoners
  • local non-government organizations
  • the business community
  • federal and territorial governments and regulators

In addition, a technical briefing was held for local and national media to provide information and an opportunity to ask questions on the Faro Mine site and the consultation process.

Meetings

During the consultation period, community meetings were held in:

  • Ross River, Monday, June 19, 2017
  • Town of Faro, Tuesday, June 20, 2017
  • Watson Lake, Thursday, June 22, 2017
  • Carmacks, Tuesday, June 27, 2017
  • Whitehorse, Wednesday, June 28, 2017
  • Pelly Crossing, Wednesday, August 9, 2017

In total, 112 people attended the community meetings.

Figure 1 - Community meeting attendance

Figure 1 - Community meeting attendance

Text description of figure 1 - Community meeting attendance
Community attendance
Community Attendance
Carmacks * 0
Pelly Crossing 11
Ross River 40
Town of Faro 32
Whitehorse 19
Watson Lake 10
Total 112

Questionnaire

In addition to the community meetings the remediation project team also made a questionnaire available. Initially the questionnaire was open from June 9, 2017 to July 10, 2017, and was re-opened from July 27, 2017 to August 28, 2017. The questionnaire was available online and at community meetings.

A total of 118 questionnaires were submitted as part of the consultation process with 92 completed online and 26 completed in-person during a community meeting.

Other feedback sources

We invited the public to write to submit comments and questions by email or mail during the consultation period.

We received four email submissions during the consultation period.

Key interests

We sorted and categorized all comments and questions received during the consultation period.

As part of the consultation, we asked participants to prioritize a list of environmental and socio-economic interests linked to the Faro Mine site.

A prioritization matrix was applied to identify interests of greatest priority to questionnaire respondents. The most frequent and significant feedback themes which emerged during the consultation sessions are:

Figure 2 - Priority of environmental and socio-economic interests, based on questionnaire results

Figure 2 - Priority of environmental and socio-economic interests, based on questionnaire results

Text description of figure 2 - Priority of environmental and socio-economic interests, based on questionnaire results
Priority of environmental and socio-economic interests, based on questionnaire results
Issue Percentage of respondents who indicated the issue was a priority
Water quality 19%
Human health 16%
Wildlife 12%
Fish and fish habitat 12%
Economic opportunities 11%
Community wellness 10%
Local and traditional land use 9%
Plants 5%
Cultural and heritage uses 3%
Other 3%

Participants were given a list of key environmental and socio-economic topics/themes and a number of related indicators (subtopics) developed by the project team based on past consultation. The following provides an overview of the additional questions, concerns and comments raised during the consultation process.

Water quality

Water quality was ranked as the top environmental and socio-economic interest of primary importance to questionnaire respondents. Stakeholders attributed high importance to the safety of water and the presence of contamination in the water at the Faro Mine site.

Indicators

A list of indicators was provided to help initiate discussions on water quality. These include how water quality in Rose Creek, Anvil Creek and Pelly River could be affected by:

  • contaminated groundwater
  • changes in water flow
  • discharge of treated water
  • blowing dust

"I ultimately want to see the site returned to an acceptable state as an absolute effort to reconcile with the Ross River Dena and allow them to return to the area." –Questionnaire respondent

Details of what we heard

Consultation participants were interested in how contaminants were being managed at the site and how it would affect the ecosystems in the surrounding areas. They also raised questions relating to water quality, including:

  • Types of contaminants and treatment options
  • Effects of contaminants on the local water supply
  • Potential for further contamination due to floods
  • Frequency of monitoring and long-term plan for treatment and monitoring
  • Availability of water sampling results
  • Technical overview for water treatment plants on site
  • How water treatment on site differs from municipal water treatment
  • Disposal of sludge resulting from the water treatment process
  • Risks of drinking the water from Vangorda Creek
  • Seeps, and their locations

Human health

Consultation participants raised questions about how the Faro Mine site might affect human health for people living near or accessing the areas around the site. Protecting the health and safety of the people who live in the area, the people who work at the site, and the environment is the number one goal of the Faro Mine Remediation Project.

"I do not live in the area, but am concerned about the cost of reclamation because I live in Yukon. As well, I am concerned about the long-term impacts to the environment and health of mammals (wildlife, humans)."
– Questionnaire respondent

Indicators

A list of indicators was provided to help initiate discussions related to human health. These include:

  • How air quality, water quality, soil contamination and noise could affect the health of people who use the site
  • Health of those who eat country food or drink water collected in the vicinity of the site (fish, game, berries and water)
  • Workers' health and safety

Details of what we heard

Those consulted were primarily concerned about the nature of the contamination at the site, and who would be managing the health and safety of those working on site. Participants also requested additional information on:

  • Water treatment and water monitoring details and results
  • Why cleaning up the site is taking so long
  • What is being done to prevent the abandonment of future mines

Wildlife

There were some concerns raised regarding wildlife at the Faro Mine site. Wildlife is important as a food source to many in the area, and has high importance for local First Nations.

Indicators

Indicators relating to wildlife which includes species at risk, migratory birds, moose, caribou, sheep, grizzly bears were provided to participants. These included:

  • Increase or decrease of habitat availability and quality due to clearing, revegetation, and disturbance from noise, traffic, and human presence
  • Habitat distribution and connectivity (fragmentation level)
  • Wildlife survival and reproduction, including wildlife health (contaminants in food chain) and other factors that could change wildlife abundance, for example – collisions with vehicles

Details of what we heard

Those consulted expressed interest in learning more about the wildlife studies that previously took place on site. They also wanted to know more about the animals that are found on the site, and how the contaminants might affect them.

Specific questions were asked by the public on following topics:

  • Access to flora and fauna data subject to previous studies
  • List of contaminants and metals on site
  • Access to trails and hunting locations near the site

Fish and fish habitat

People who participated in the consultations also had concerns and questions about the site's impact on fish and fish habitat. A number of questionnaire respondents noted that they harvest fish in the vicinity of the site.

"Although I myself don't necessarily live/visit the area much, I still think the environmental impacts of the mine were devastating and need to both be remediated and for the consequences to be used as a determining factor for any future projects in the Yukon."
– Questionnaire respondent

Indicators

A list of indicators that link to fish (sculpin, arctic grayling, and fish that are part of local fisheries) and fish habitat were provided to participants. These include:

  • Destruction or creation of fish habitat in Rose Creek, Anvil Creek, and Pelly River
  • Changes in the quality of fish habitat in the downstream environment due to changes in water quality and flow
  • Site impacts on fish health

Details of what we heard

Consultation participants asked us to make studies on fish and fish habitat available on the project website. Additional questions were also asked on:

  • zinc and bioaccumulation in freshwater fish
  • the impact of the site on fish

Economic opportunities

Throughout the consultation, the Faro Mine Remediation Project heard strong support for site-related economic opportunities. Consultation participants were interested in knowing how many people would be working on site, and how the project team will work to ensure that First Nations, local communities, and Yukoners can benefit from the work and job opportunities at the site.

"If we could increase our population to around 600 people year round then the Town becomes much more sustainable and attractive. We have seen how Dawson went from a dying town to a growing one with the start of Parks Canada stabilizing buildings and developing interpretive attractions and then the addition of the School of Arts added even more growth and stability for small business."
– Questionnaire respondent

Indicators

A list of indicators was provided to help initiate discussions related to project economic opportunities. These included:

  • Employment, contracting, and income levels
  • Education, training and skill development opportunities
  • Investment in training and educational programs
  • Business development
  • Economic diversification

Details of what we heard

Each community had specific questions and concerns regarding employment, procurement and training related to the various components of the Faro Mine Remediation Project, such as care and maintenance, urgent works and final closure. The affected communities were also seeking clarification as to how they would benefit economically from the project. They asked us to provide opportunities for members of affected communities to be more involved in the gathering of information related to the social and economic impacts of the project, environmental monitoring and on-site worker health and safety. The discussion on economic opportunities emphasized the need for the development of a robust training and capacity building strategy.

Specific questions relating to the project economic opportunities and economic potential were also raised. These included:

  • Clarification on the construction manager approach
  • On-site employment statistics (number of jobs)
  • First Nation benefits relating to training, procurement and employment opportunities
  • Housing redevelopment and tourism opportunities in the Town of Faro
  • Profitability of reprocessing tailings
  • Potential sale of Vangorda portion of the Faro mine site.

Other themes

Throughout the consultation process, we also asked participants for their input on the following key environmental and socio-economic interests:

  • Local and traditional land use
  • Cultural and heritage resources
  • Community wellness
  • Vegetation (plants)

Although consultation participants were primarily interested in the five key themes covered within this document, participants also expressed interest in the following topics:

  • Legacy of the mine, including mining operations
  • Transparency of costs for the project
  • Project implementation timelines
  • Increasing communication about the site and the project
  • Use of traditional knowledge in the remediation plan
  • Kaska Faro Secretariat involvement
  • How the site remediation will affect access and use of land near the site

Next steps

The feedback summarized in this report will be used to inform the development of a project proposal on the Faro Mine Remediation to be submitted to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board.

The project team will hold another round of public meetings in 2018 to report back on what we heard in the summer 2017 consultation sessions. At these public meetings, project officials will:

"My concerns are for future generations. I hope this project works, so that the long-term outcomes of this environmental disaster can be mitigated and that the remediation project can provide useful input into policies that will prevent force the mining industry to be responsible for its actions."
– Questionnaire respondent

Additional meetings, site visits, and technical workshops may be held during this time period if required. Public comments and concerns from these consultations will be considered in the project proposal, which we expect to submit to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board in 2018.

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