By Emily Blake, The Canadian Press
YELLOWKNIFE - With a cost estimate of $4.38 billion, remediation of the Giant Mine, one of the most contaminated sites in Canada, is also expected to be the most expensive federal environmental cleanup in the country's history.
The figure, recently approved by the Treasury Board of Canada, spans costs from 2005 until 2038, when active remediation at the former Yellowknife gold mine is anticipated to end. That includes $710 million the federal government said has already been spent, but does not include costs forlong-term care and maintenance.
"It doesn't bother me so much that it's going to cost $4 billion to clean up Giant Mine. What really bothers me is that the taxpayer is covering that cost," said David Livingstone, chair of the Giant Mine Oversight Board.
It indicates the federal government failed to ensure private developers provided financial security to remediate sites. He said while that has improved over time, there will likely be more issues in the future.
"We as a society need to get a better handle on what it costs us to support mining industry and oil and gas industry," he said. "If the numbers suggest that it's going to cost more to clean up a site than that site generated in revenue to the Crown, we've got a problem."
There are more than 20,000 locations listed in the federal contaminated sites inventory, from dumps and abandoned mines to military operations on federal land.
Environment and Climate Change Canada says that after Giant Mine, the four most expensive cleanups are the Faro Mine in Yukon, the Port Hope Area Initiative in Ontario, Esquimalt Harbour in British Columbia and Yukon's United Keno Hill Mine.
More than $2 billion has been spent on the five sites so far, and it's anticipated they will cost taxpayers billions more in the coming years. Their final price tags are not yet known.
Jamie Kneen with MiningWatch Canada said the contamination from Giant Mine highlights the importance of the planning and assessment process for development projects.
"If you don't actually do any planning around something, you can end up with a pretty horrible mess," he said. "In this case, it killed people before they started even capturing the arsenic. We don't want that to happen anymore."
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