Smaller 'footprints'
Dozens of exploration sites need assessing, remediation

Doug Ashbury
Northern News Services

NNSL (Dec 02/98) - Their names are Ruth, Tundra, Sunset, Hope Bay, Viking Yellowknife, North Inca, Crestaurum, Beaulieu and Old Parr.

They are the abandoned mines of the Slave Geological Province.

It is uncertain just how many inactive mines are out there, but an engineer helping with their environmental assessments said there are at least 50, maybe a lot more.

For many of the mines needing cleanup work, there are no regulations to speak of. Most were small operations of five to 20 people, John Clark, president and senior engineer with Yellowknife-based Vista Engineering, said.

"Lack of regulation in the past had led to problems."

Clark spoke Thursday at the Geoscience Forum at the Explorer.

It costs about $225,000 to $250,000 to clean up a small abandoned mine. Asked who pays for the cleanup, Clark said simply, "the taxpayer."

Over the past five years, Deton'Cho Corp., the economic development arm of the Yellowknives Dene, has been retained by the federal government's contaminated sites office to oversee cleanup. Deton'Cho provides project management and camp crews.

Clark said the first step is to gather all the literature available for each site.

"There's a health and safety plan before anybody sets foot on the site."

This is part of the challenge because back then, labelling was not a top priority.

"The worst thing I can come across is an unknown white power," Clark said. And it's costly to determine just what the stuff is.

"Tailings produce the most significant impact."

But in some cases, the tailings ponds were hard to find.

Another heavy metal hot spot is the soil around the mill and the assay lab.

Part of the remediation involves inventorying each site. Among the materials found, PCBs, asbestos, and various chemicals and chemical compounds. Calcium carbide, from miners' lamps, is among the collection of chemicals at such sites.

"I expected to find explosives but never did."

Clark did however find primer and detonation cord. The detonation cord struck the biggest chord of alarm, he said.

As well as the chemical hazards, there are safety concerns related to buildings and mine shafts. Buildings were burned and shafts capped. For historical purposes, a member of Spirit Yk or other organizations attended.

Mining companies left behind more than chemicals. They left buildings, mill equipment and various other items.

The group got what junk they could out of any nearby lakes and hauled the waste out via the winter road.

"There's still a pool table at the Tundra mine."

Despite the large number of abandoned mines, Clark said the effect of each site is limited to its own individual "footprint."

Future assessments and remediation depend on funding. Clark said no assessments were done in 1998 and none are as yet planned for 1999.

Over 1994-96, Vista assessed 13 abandoned mines.

Remediation work on four mines has been completed.