Letter to the Editor

Look to the future Open letter to mayor and council re McLean Lake: More than a half-century ago, McLean Lake and surrounding area were declared a…

Look to the future

Open letter to mayor and council re McLean Lake:

More than a half-century ago, McLean Lake and surrounding area were declared a game sanctuary by territorial ordinance.

More than a half-century ago, policymakers of the day recognized that the McLean Lake area was an invaluable asset in proximity to a growing city — a natural habitat that was worth protecting for the benefit of future generations.

These values existed long before the polarized interests of current residents and proponents of industrial development within the McLean Lake watershed.

Currently, residents and visitors alike repeatedly mention that what they treasure most about Whitehorse is its “wilderness city” aspect: that anybody can enjoy an intact natural environment that is situated just a few kilometers from downtown Whitehorse.

Area residents have lived with the existence of numerous quarries nearby for well beyond a decade.

The proposed construction of a concrete batch plant within a stone’s throw of McLean Lake is an unacceptable option in the year 2007 when across North America there is growing awareness of the impacts of industrial development situated next to residential areas.

Despite identifying alternative sites, despite countless hours of grassroots community work, despite the involvement of hundreds of Whitehorse residents making their views known on this issue, and despite having won a Supreme Court case that declared the city’s zoning bylaw invalid, the proponent (and the city at this point) persist in their pursuit to complete the deed and bring industrial development to our doorsteps.

An amended bylaw has been introduced and allows for the construction of only the concrete batch plant — a crafty way of circumventing the Supreme Court’s legal directive that detailed water studies shall be undertaken prior to any further quarry development at McLean Lake.

As a result, a growing number of concerned citizens believe there is no other option than to send a clear message to mayor and council by way of petition for referendum,” that McLean Lake shall be protected for future generations.”

The chosen site is situated in close proximity to land selected by Kwanlin Dun First Nation for future community development.

The First Nation made a statement before city council at the public hearing on this issue last winter.

The First Nation’s concerns also seem to have fallen upon deaf ears.

I encourage mayor and council to revisit these stated concerns in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes of the past, i.e. situating industrial development right next to aboriginal communities.

I believe that the proposed batch plant constitutes the “thin edge of the wedge” that will attract and enable other more polluting industries to relocate to an already environmentally compromised area.

One has to look no further than current industrial development at Ear Lake; or where the smoke went from the recent clearing for Hamilton Blvd Extension road allowance to conclude that an industrial area at McLean Lake will pose significant health risks for many Whitehorse residents.

Monday, 7:30 p.m. at city hall is the next public hearing for this bylaw.

I encourage concerned individuals to attend this event. And better yet, take an hour and go to McLean Lake and see for yourself:

There are alternatives.

Together we can save McLean Lake for future generations.

Natalie Edelson

Whitehorse

Preserve the Lake

On Monday, city council will hold a public hearing on Territorial Contracting’s application to rezone 14 hectares of land near McLean Lake from Future Development to IQ (Quarries).

The company wants to get private ownership of the land to build a concrete batch plant that, for the time being, will process gravel extracted elsewhere.

This application is being made to get a toe in the door.

The real goal is quarrying Sleeping Giant Hill, beside McLean Lake.

In February 2006, council approved Territorial Contracting’s application to rezone the land near McLean Lake for quarrying and a concrete batch plant, but the Yukon’s Supreme Court overturned this decision because it was did not comply with the Official Community Plan.

The OCP says that prior to any further gravel extraction, there must be a detailed groundwater assessment of the McLean Lake watershed, and this has not been done.

In the September 18 Whitehorse Star, Territorial Contracting’s owner Ron Newsome was quoted as saying that he is not abandoning the idea of quarrying at McLean Lake.

If council approves Territorial Contracting’s current application, the outcome of future applications for quarrying beside the lake may be prejudiced.

Before the company spends money on groundwater studies council needs to take a serious look at the best uses for this area.

This beautiful lake within city limits is the kind of wildlife and recreational area that makes Whitehorse a desirable place to live.

This is also a prime area for well-planned residential developments.

The city also needs to take a look at what locations are suitable for heavy industrial uses like concrete plants — arguably not in environmentally sensitive and recreationally popular areas.

There are existing quarries in the vicinity, but they are not right beside McLean Lake.

Territorial Contracting wants to quarry within 150 meters of the lake and build its concrete plant on top of a well-used access trail.

A gravel quarry beside McLean Lake would benefit one company.

A protected area around the lake, combined with well-planned residential development nearby would benefit all Whitehorse residents forever.

Karen Baltgailis, Yukon Conservation Society, Whitehorse

See you in court…

Re application for concrete plant at McLean Lake:

In August, the Yukon Supreme Court ruled the city’s mayor and council passed a zoning bylaw amendment that it wasn’t authorized to make.

That decision rendered the amendment to zone 14 hectares at McLean Lake for a gravel quarry invalid.

A mandatory policy in the OCP, to conduct hydrological studies prior to any gravel extraction, had not been followed.

The proposed 14-hectare development plan for a quarry at McLean Lake was extensive, including the construction of a concrete plant on four hectares of land and a 50-year plan to dig into a landmark hill that sits between the lake and the access trail that people have been using to get to the lake for more than half a century, by foot, skis, snowshoes and snowmobiles.

That access trail would be relocated.

When the zoning amendment was being considered, the issue of the OCP policy requiring water studies prior to allowing any gravel extraction was raised by delegates to council.

After the politicians unanimously voted in favour of the zoning change to Quarry (in the face of opposition from several hundred Whitehorse residents) Mayor Bev Buckway told media that citizens opposed to the zoning would just have to take Whitehorse to court.

Obediently, the McLean Lake Residents’ Association did so, and Justice Ron Veale confirmed what council had been told many times.

Territorial Contracting has now submitted a new application to develop the concrete plant only, once again asking the area be rezoned to Quarry (IQ).

Because gravel extraction cannot be approved until the required water studies for the McLean Lake watershed are done, the company proposes to import the gravel for the plant.

The purpose of the IQ zone is clearly defined: to provide a site for developing gravel resources where gravel is found on or under the site.

Concrete and asphalt plants are allowed in the zone as principal and conditional uses respectively.

When gravel is not on site, those plants are zoned as Heavy Industrial in the zoning bylaw.

The proposed zoning amendment is clearly at odds with the public understanding of the purpose of IQ zoning.

Taken to its logical conclusion, zoning for Quarry without attention to the purpose of the zoning invites other heavy industrial uses to apply for Quarry in locations where there is no gravel.

In fact, why would any developer not apply for their preferred zoning (that is, the zoning with the lightest obligations) regardless of the purpose of the zoning?

Approval of the concrete company’s proposal would jeopardize the zoning bylaw itself.

A subsequent court action would be inevitable.

Territorial Contracting rationalizes Quarry zoning without gravel with the assumption that the water studies would be done eventually and gravel extraction would follow.

Buckway, following the court decision, pointed out one pitfall of this assumption when she told the media that the studies might show everything was “not OK.”

The tactic of approving a zoning amendment, based on possible future outcomes, was addressed by Justice Veale, who said that if the zoning bylaw amendment did not conform to the Official Community Plan, it could not be passed and validated retroactively.

(Whitehorse attempted to do this by suggesting that conditions to fulfill the community plan obligation could be attached to one of the development permits that follows zoning).

It’s not a given that council will approve this application.

After all, it has fashioned itself as a law and order council of late.

But it is a characteristic, and a collective failure of this council that not one of them has ever made a public commitment to acting in a manner that maintains the integrity of the Official Community Plan, or the zoning bylaw or for that matter the public interest.

“See you in court” is fast becoming its mantra; and the taxpayer’s burden.

Marianne Darragh

Whitehorse

Editor’s note: There are several other McLean Lake letters online. With council’s next public hearing scheduled for Monday, we encourage you to read their reasoned perspectives on city’s approach to this development. Visit www.yukon-news.com.

Takhini North – the story behind the “story”

Takhini North residents feel the need to set the record straight given the recent comments made by the  mayor and city manager to the media in last Friday’s Yukon News. 

Over the last year, the residents have been working to understand what the heck is going on in our community regarding our municipal water and sewer system and services.

We’ve had numerous meetings with council and staff in order to make some sense of the $24,500 water and sewer bill that the city presented to each of us.

Contrary to the city’s recent statements, the facts appear to reveal that this issue is not about burdening the ‘common taxpayer’ with our problem.

Rather, it is about a serious lack of accountability, integrity and responsibility on the part of our municipal government in its role to protect its citizens against this type of situation, which the Municipal Act is intended to prevent.

We bought our homes in Takhini North and diligently pay our taxes, utility bills and completed renovations on our homes.

What we didn’t know at the time is that under each of our properties lie a severely decrepit water and sewer system and that this system has been known (by the city and the developers) to be in poor condition and non-compliant with municipal bylaws for decades.

And guess what?

Now apparently we have to do something about it because government has not.

We have been asked to pay tens of thousands of dollars for something we thought we already had paid for simply because the city failed to ensure the appropriate party (the developer) did something about it at the proper time.

And, as in other neighbourhoods, we paid fair market price for the new home (utilities included).

Our research shows that during the redevelopment of Valleyview, Takhini East and West, the city acted to protect the interests of the city and future property owners by ensuring that the developer in those neighbourhoods paid the costs to correct the non-compliant servicing.

This guaranteed that every purchaser bought a lot and home with new, public, and up-to-code utilities.

But the same requirement was not applied in Takhini North.

All in all, it appears that somehow, despite the city’s detailed history and knowledge of the decrepit state of the water and sewer system, it never applied its regulatory regime to the developer in this case as it had to the other Takhini redevelopments.

Something was seriously overlooked.

We brought this to the attention of the council and staff expecting that there is a good explanation for all of this.

But the explanation we received boils down to the city’s insistence that you and your neighbors must bear the burden of the costs to correct the system.

And by what providence we ask?

Oh, they reply, because of the “easement” registered on your titles.

We decided that it is time to hire a lawyer to get a legal review.

The conclusion of the review is that the “easement agreement” is not actually a legal easement, nor could it bind us in any way to bear the burden as the city suggests.

To make things worse, our research reveals that the advice that the city received regarding the use of such an easement agreement appears to have come from the city’s lawyers, who partially comprise the developer’s consortium.

To complicate things even more, the city tells us that we have a private system and we have to take care of it; fend for ourselves should it breakdown.

We then asked the city, “But then why do we pay utilities if it is private?” We have a public utility system that happens to run under our homes due to the technology available at the time it was installed.

We can only conclude that the city did not protect its own interests nor the interests of the homeowners in Takhini North, unlike it did for three other similar neighbourhoods.

We have tried hard to work directly with council and staff, and are disappointed that it has come to this as we expect more from our local government.

While the Municipal Act collects dust and the developers spent their profits, we debate digging outhouse holes.

Something stinks.

Takhini North Community Association Working Group, Whitehorse