Special to the News
The Yukon Conservation Society believes that mining in the Yukon should occur only in places where such activities are ecologically and culturally acceptable. Where mining occurs, it should be done in a way that ensures that perpetual treatment is not necessary.
One of the main ways to ensure mining is done right is to participate in the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act process, henceforth referred to as YESAA. Even though the act has been around for over a decade, YCS still gets enquiries from our members and the general public on what YESAA is and how to participate. Even those individuals familiar with the existing process sometimes have questions about new projects or developments. Examples of this are the proposed Casino Mine panel review, or cumulative placer activity along the Indian River.
The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) describes its mission as being “to protect the environmental and social integrity of Yukon, while fostering responsible development in the territory that reflects the values of Yukoners and respects the contributions of First Nations.”
Another way to describe the role of YESAB is that whenever anyone wants to do a project that involves disturbing the surface of the land they have to have to get their project evaluated. Mining exploration and mining development obviously do disturb the surface of the land, often to the detriment of plants and animals living on it. This is why YCS spends a lot of time and effort submitting comments to YESAB on projects.
YESAB reviews all the information submitted on the project, and ensures enough and adequate information has been submitted for an assessment to begin.
Sometimes new information comes to light during the review, or a new issue is raised, and YESAB can ask the proponent to provide information on that.
Depending on the proposed project activities, an assessment can take place through three different processes: a designated office evaluation, an executive committee screening, and a panel of the board review.
The vast majority of YESAA evaluations are done at the designated office level. There are designated offices in Dawson City, Haines Junction, Mayo, Teslin, Watson Lake, and Whitehorse.
They are actual physical offices, with regular open hours so members of the general public can pop in and review projects and submit comments on them. Another way to review projects is to check Friday’s newspapers, which carry advertisements listing which projects are open for comment. A third way is to visit the YESAB registry website. It is online at www.yesabregistry.ca.
Comments on projects can be submitted via the registry, e-mail or mail, or delivered by hand or even verbally in person at the appropriate designated office.
YESAB accepts all comments provided they are not malicious. Anecdotal evidence suggests that if you write your thoughts down on a napkin at the coffee shop and drop it off, they will scan it and put it online in what is termed the project registry.
YESAB not only gathers comments from the general public, but also from all orders of government, industry, and even non-governmental organizations such as the Yukon Conservation Society.
A designated office evaluation typically will invite public input for two to five weeks once YESAB considers the project adequate. That means they have received appropriate information from the project proponent.
YESAB will then take two to five weeks to prepare its recommendation on the project.
Of course, it doesn’t end there. The Yukon government, which is usually (but not always) the decision body on projects, in turn takes a few weeks to digest the recommendation report, and then issues its decision document.
This document gives the Yukon government the luxury to accept, reject or modify the recommendation report.
As you can imagine, this does give the Yukon government a large amount of power over environmental assessments. It must be noted that it is somewhat unusual for YESAB to be completely overruled by the Yukon government. When it does happen it tends to make a splash in the media and can cause embarrassment for some of the parties concerned.
Larger projects go through a longer process. There are executive committee screenings and panel reviews.
An example of an executive committee screening was the one done for the Victoria Gold project. Such screenings can easily take eight months during the screening phase, during which time there are opportunities for the public to provide input.
Panel reviews are reserved for the very biggest projects, including ones that are potentially most disruptive environmentally and socio-economically, such as the Casino Mine.
There has never been a completed panel review, but should the Casino Mine submit adequate information to YESAB towards the end of 2017, the fifteen-month evaluation stage would commence. Large segments of that allotted period of time would consist of public input opportunities.
The Yukon Conservation Society encourages all Yukoners who are concerned about the environment to submit comments to YESAB on projects that raise their interest. The environmental review system we have, made as it is in the Yukon, might not be perfect but it does permit everyone to have their say.
For more information, visit the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board website at www.yesab.ca.
Lewis Rifkind is the mining analyst for the Yukon Conservation Society