After the latest NWT mine remediation project wrapped a year early, officials with the project are now saying that it could lead the way for faster, more effective clean-ups in the North moving forward.
The Bullmoose-Ruth remediation project was expected to be a three-year project that ran late into 2019, however remediation was completed earlier this year and is now ready to move into the monitoring and evaluation phases of the remediation cycle.
“By early 2018 we were about 95 per cent complete the work and they just had to build a Bullmoose land fill, clean up the site and demobilize the camp equipment and fuel and as of June of this year they were removed from site, so we’re all done.” said Ron Breadmore, project manager of the Bullmoose-Ruth Remediation Mine Project.
Located 90 kilometers east of Yellowknife, the Bullmoose-Ruth remediation project encompassed seven different gold and tungsten mine sites that were in operation between the early 1940’s and late 1980’s. In 2009 Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) began the prep work to remediate the site. In 2017 remediation began on all seven sites included in the project.
The remediation work focused on sealing ground openings and removing 41,000 metric tonnes of tailings and petroleum hydrocarbons, such as crude oil from the soils. Breadmore credits taking a “Northern-based, adaptive management” approach to the project as being the leading factor in the project finishing early and in turn saving close to $1.5 million.
The federal government contracted the remediation work to Rowes-Outcome Joint Venture, based out of Hay River. Breadmore credits the company that has a large amount of experience working during Northern winters as a leading factor as to why the project was able to shorten the project.
“This contractor had, through their highway experience, a history of being able to push the winter envelope sort of speak … so in the end we thought well yeah there’s no reason you can’t develop a quarry in April and there’s no reason you can’t improve our airstrips and roads in march,” said Breadmore.
The ability to work longer into the winter was coupled with an approach that allowed the project team to change their plan along the way and the ability to use the land around the site. The team used a Northern based process called air striping to clean the soil and then used landfill and organic material around the site to safely contain the cleaned soil.
“We’ve done winter programming in the past setting up camp but actually doing the road improvements, the air stripping improvements, the quarry development, that was a lessons learned on this project,” said Breadmore. “So in the future, you know, rather than having another three-year program, maybe we can look at a two-year one, the faster the better.”
While Breadmore pointed to the aspects of the project that brought positive reports, the remediation was not always well received. In 2017 inspectors found that a number of conditions were not being met, including the failure to report a contamination spill into Spectrum Lake.
CBC News reported at the time Dettah Chief Ed Sangris called for the contractors to be replaced. Breadmore said the contractors were not replaced, but throughout the project third-party auditors were brought in to ensure that all regulations were being followed.
Breadmore also noted since remediation had been complete the project management team had conducted site tours with the Yellowknives Dene First Nations (YKDFN) and that on those tours the team was told that this project “could set the standard” of remediation from the north.
YKDFN chiefs could not be reached for comment as of press time.
In a common story with mines across the NWT and North America as a whole, the various owners of the mine were not required to clean-up their sites. Once the mine’s became unprofitable the owner’s walked away with no plans for remediation.
“There were a number of owners, just like many of our mining operations up here and no real remediation or clean-up by those companies,” said Breadmore. “The only clean-up being done prior to this project was at the Beaulieu site in the mid 1990s and that was a program done under the Arctic environmental strategy. This is really why the Government of Canada came into the picture, about 10 years ago, there were a number of mine hazards at these sites.”
While Breadmore noted the issue of a lack of remediation plans, he also stated that modern day mines in the north are adapting and planning for remediation while they are still in operation.
“So it’s a different game now than it was 30, 40, 50 years ago. The land and water boards were developed to have more control on regional land management and through the local governments who have more involvement and more power now through the boards so I’d like to say gone are the days of failed security,” said Breadmore.
There are currently 28 contaminated sites in the NWT listed by the federal government.