The former Giant Mine townsite now won’t be torn down until at least the summer of 2022, the team leading the work told Yellowknife city councillors on Monday.
Earlier, the joint federal and territorial team cleaning up the mine had suggested the townsite would come down in either 2021 or 2022. Presenting an updated timeline to council, spokesperson Natalie Plato said the work would now be at least a year away.
Now a ghost town, the townsite once housed workers at the mine, which closed in 2004 – leaving behind 237,000 tonnes of toxic arsenic trioxide stored underground.
The remediation team plans to freeze that arsenic trioxide in place with thermosyphons, which extract ground heat, to keep an area around each underground chamber frozen. The aim is that toxic material can’t leak out and water can’t get in.
While the townsite has a one-year stay of execution, three other areas of work to clean up the mine are set to go ahead this summer.
Blasting will level a prominent rock outcrop above the first underground chamber to be frozen, a landfill for non-hazardous waste like wood and metal will be built, and some underground stabilization work – filling voids that aren’t consider high-risk with a mix of cement and tailings – will take place.
An annual public forum regarding the clean-up work takes place on Tuesday from 5:30pm till 7:30pm via webcast. To attend the forum, email the Giant Mine team.
The federal government says that forum will include an update on work that’s happened to date, the regulatory process, work coming up this year, and socio-economic considerations.
On Monday, council asked representatives of both the federal and territorial governments about options for land use once remediation work is further advanced, potentially a decade down the line.
Councillor Shauna Morgan urged all parties to make “some solid progress” in planning how the land might be used once work winds down. Some form of care and maintenance is expected to remain at the site for many decades to come.
Councillor Cynthia Mufandaedza asked for the remediation team to commit to maximizing benefits for northerners as clean-up work ramps up, quoting a past meeting at which she said a representative had suggested the project was prioritizing hiring in the south.
Plato said that messaging sounded “unfortunate” and maximizing local capacity was the project’s “number one goal.”
Andrei Torianski, the project’s socio-economic manager, said it was “the first time” he had heard such a message about southern hiring. Councillor Niels Konge said his construction company, by contrast, had been approached by Parsons – the main construction manager for the clean-up – regarding their interest in work at the site, and praised the remediation project for taking that step.
Torianski said the project will begin reporting its progress against northern hiring targets in the coming year.
Last month, the federal government and Yellowknives Dene First Nation said they had agreed to a “collaborative discussion process” that will lead to an apology and compensation for the toxic legacy of Giant Mine.
In December, the First Nation held a demonstration calling on Canada to apologize for the mine’s long-lasting impacts. Members also requested a role in remediation of the site, including jobs and training.
A website titled “Giant Mine Monster” details those impacts and the First Nation’s calls on the government.
Correction: March 3, 2020 – 9:40 MT. This article initially suggested thermosyphons use the sun’s power. They don’t. They draw heat from the ground in a process that doesn’t require any external power source to keep going. Our report has been amended accordingly.