Driller at Giant Mine wins $677K court award

A dispute between contractors working on the cleanup of Giant Mine has been resolved, with one winning a court award of $677,097.

McCaw Drilling and Blasting initiated the lawsuit four years ago against Clark Builders, the general contractor the federal government hired to oversee cleanup work on the abandoned gold mine.

Clark had contracted McCaw to do geotechnical drilling at Giant. According to a written decision issued on Friday, the contract did not contemplate arsenic contamination being a big issue during the job. But it became one.

The mine spewed large amounts of the highly toxic dust through its roaster stack, particularly during its early years of operation when there was virtually no pollution control. Recent research has shown that, although it was emitted half a century ago, much of that toxic dust is still on the ground at the mine, as well on the land and in the sediment of lakes surrounding it.

According to the court decision, while McCaw was drilling on the site, an employee with another company working on another area of the mine had to be hospitalized after being exposed to high levels of arsenic trioxide dust.

"The Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission of the Northwest Territories became concerned about worker safety at the Project and more specifically about exposure to arsenic trioxide dust," noted NWT Supreme Court justice Shannon Smallwood in her written decision.

Clark, McCaw, the WSCC and federal officials held a meeting to discuss the concerns about the toxic dust.

"At the meeting the WSCC suggested that the drilling may have already resulted in McCaw drilling into arsenic areas and that personnel and equipment may have been exposed to dangerous levels of contamination as a result," noted Smallwood.

The WSCC ordered those involved in the cleanup to develop standard operating procedures for drilling in close proximity to underground chambers containing arsenic trioxide. Approximately 237,000 tonnes that was collected from the roaster stack over the years is now stored in those underground chambers.

McCaw also became concerned that its drilling equipment may be too contaminated to move off the site legally. It tested it and found that it was contaminated with high levels of arsenic trioxide. The equipment — some of it rented — sat idle for weeks while a process for decontaminating it that was acceptable to the WSCC was developed.

In her decision, Smallwood found McCaw was not responsible for that delay. She awarded the company the full $612,940 it was claiming in standby costs, plus another $64,157 for drilling work it was not paid for.