Assessment board leaves trapper in the cold

Trapper Christopher Bemister is angry about an Australian exploration company’s plans to access a winter road by driving heavy equipment smack…

Trapper Christopher Bemister is angry about an Australian exploration company’s plans to access a winter road by driving heavy equipment smack down the middle of his trapline.

The Ross River resident learned of the Andrew Property Winter Trail project a day before the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board’s deadline for comment by reading a notice posted in the local grocery store.

His girlfriend Sharon John, who works at the store, saw the notice posted last Wednesday.

It announced the deadline for comment had been extended to Friday.

It was the first time word of the project had been posted in the store.

“I called (the assessment board) last Friday and they said it was posted in Ross River for three weeks,” said Bemister.

“But my girlfriend works at the store and I probably read the notice board at least two or three times a week.

“It’s never been posted.”

As a result, Bemister and his girlfriend couldn’t submit their comments on time.

As a result, their concerns will not be considered in the board’s decision.

To get to the Andrew property, construction crews from Overland Resources Limited will travel 110 kilometres up the North Canol Road.

That’s more than half the length of Bemister’s trapline.

He has two cabins along the road, which is normally unused and unpaved during the winter.

The crew will pass three other traplines before it reaches Bemister’s.

The other trappers were not aware of the proposal either.

“In this particular case, the assessor went beyond the call of duty to notify the public,” said assessment board spokesperson Rob Yeomans.

On November 1, a public notice was faxed to the Yukon College, Ross River Band Office, Margaret Thompson Centre, and Economic Development Office.

It was also posted at the Dena general store, Ross River service centre, the post office, TD Bank, T&D Hotel and the joint EMR and Environment Office.

It is not common practice to contact individual stakeholders — such as trappers — directly.

“We do have a process that an individual or organization can be on a notification list,” said Yeomans.

“It’s an automated system — you choose a set of criteria and are contacted automatically if a project comes up that meets that criteria.”

The board often meets with the trappers association to inform members they should ensure they are on the notification list, said Yeomans.

“Many trappers have done this and are notified accordingly.”

Bemister was not on that list.

“They said that they posted notifications at the store, the college and the band office,” said Bemister.

“If it was posted at any of these places we surely would have seen it.

“So it wasn’t posted for three weeks, not to our knowledge.”

Bemister has trapped in the area for the past 15 years.

John, his partner, has the rights to the trapline through her family.

John’s 98-year-old grandfather had the North Canol Road built through the middle of his trapline when he was working as a guide for the American army during the Second World War.

The road is used widely during hunting season in the fall, but is normally deserted during the winter months.

“They’re going to be plowing the road so we won’t be able to Skidoo up there to trap,” said Bemister.

“Sure, we’ll be able to drive up now, but so will half of Whitehorse.”

Overland Resources Ltd., an Australian-based exploration company, will be building its winter trail over the next three winters, beginning this January, if the proposal goes through.

“It’s January, February and March and those three months are our prime trapping season,” said Bemister.

“It’s definitely going to affect us.”

The normal period for public comment on assessment board applications is 14 days.

For this particular project there were two additional extensions — one pushing the deadline to 21 days and another making it 23 days, said Yeomans.

He was unable to say why the extensions were made, but speculated that it may have been at the request of the Ross River Dena Council.

“We advertise projects in the Yukon News every week and in local colleges, band offices … any area that people visit regularly,” said Yeomans.

“And we advertise extensions if they happen.

“People can also monitor our website.”

But unless trappers and other interested parties have signed up on the notification list, they will not be contacted directly.

“Our assessors can’t imagine who might be interested in something,” said Yeomans.

“There has to be an arrangement made.”