Keno City gets garbage bins; Hecla Mining to haul waste

In an effort to modernize Yukon’s waste management system, the Yukon government (YG) dropped off 22 shiny new plastic garbage bins in Keno City, one colour for garbage and another for recyclables. Now two of these bearproof carts will sit outside many of Keno’s historic homes, two each for year-round people, plus a few extra pairs for summer residents.

“We have no idea where the garbage is going,” Keno resident Sonia Stange-Hepner told the News on Thursday.

Hecla Mining has agreed to pick up the bins with a same day return, once a week. YG’s news release on Nov. 30 stated they were purchasing a trailer for Hecla to transport the waste to “a nearby facility” once the transfer station closes, expected sometime in early December.

That nearby facility was not identified by name, but government spokesperson, Echo Ross with the department of Community Services, acknowledged that Mayo will not yet accept Keno residents’ garbage. She wrote Dec. 1, saying that the necessary regional transfer agreements are still in the works with all Yukon municipalities to ensure they can cover the cost of taking waste from outside of their municipal boundaries.

This means that Hecla is hauling the trailer with the new bins from Keno, a distance of 220 km round trip, to another transfer station at Stewart Crossing, from where it will be transferred and shipped out again.

“In the short term, the Yukon government is compensating Hecla for the additional costs to take the waste the extra distance from Mayo to our Stewart Crossing transfer station,” Ross wrote in her email. She said that Hecla Mining will not be able to use any of its several industrial waste sites for the residential garbage.

The move still puzzles Keno’s Stange-Hepner, since the volume of waste generated at the existing transfer station was very low in the winter to start with.

“I think we only filled three or four of those metal containers all winter,” she said.

Now a weekly trip on a dodgy road is in the cards so a new mining company can fulfill the government’s stated purpose of reducing transportation emissions and modernizing waste management.

Ross did confirm an earlier promise made to the residents of Keno, saying “Community Services will be providing signage for the community to inform visitors that they must take their waste with them upon leaving Keno. The signage will be up by June 1st for the tourist season – after the ground thaws to allow for pounding stakes.” Stange-Hepner said the nearest highway bins on the Silver Trail are at the Victoria Gold access road.

Both Keno and Silver City residents have expressed concerns about the burden of waste from visitors accumulating in rest areas, scenic spots and historic sites, especially now that people don’t have plastic bags to collect and carry their bits of garbage in.

The saga of the closure of Yukon’s small transfer stations has been on-going for years. As tipping fees increased in Whitehorse, and people started overusing the peripheral waste facilities around Whitehorse, government looked to introducing tipping fees at other government managed sites.

In 2018, a ministerial advisory committee on solid waste produced a report with a number of recommendations regarding the 27 government run disposal facilities, which included recommendations to close some smaller ones.

Government said the ministerial advisory process proved consultation with Yukon communities through representation from the Association of Yukon Communities (AYC), but in 2021 the Yukon Ombudsman said the process was unfair to Destruction Bay and Keno City residents. AYC has affirmed several times that they only represent the eight municipalities and definitely not all communities, placing the responsibility for consultation squarely on the shoulders of YG.

Suzanne Tremblay told the News Dec. 1 that the government is still not working with or listening to the residents of Destruction Bay and Silver City about the closure scheduled soon for their area. The Kluane First Nation also sent a letter that disagreed with the pending closure.

Tremblay says she is so frustrated she can only hope for a spring election and a change of government so the right thing can happen.

Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Yukon News