Proposed access road near Keno draws ire

A proposal for an all-season access road to a mineral deposit northeast of Keno City is attracting criticism from outfitters and others who use the area for traditional purposes.

A proposal for an all-season access road to a mineral deposit northeast of Keno City is attracting criticism from outfitters and others who use the area for traditional purposes.

ATAC Resources Ltd. wants to build 65 kilometres of road off the existing Hanson Lakes road to access the Tiger Gold deposit, part of its Rackla Gold project located 55 kilometres northeast of Keno.

The road would require eight or nine bridges for large stream crossings, and nearly 40 culverts for smaller crossings. Construction would cost about $11 million.

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board is currently reviewing ATAC’s proposal.

Chris McKinnon, who runs Bonnet Plume Outfitters, said he’s disgusted by the proposal. About 16 kilometres of the access road would run through his outfitting concession.

“I just can’t believe we’d even possibly entertain the idea of putting in an all-season road for exploration purposes,” he said. “That’s just insane. Ludicrous.”

McKinnon said the mining company hasn’t done proper research to determine what impacts the road would have on wildlife in the area. He also said the road will end close to the Peel watershed, and he worries that it could bring further industrial development into an area of pristine wilderness.

He said ATAC should have to rely on flying in or using winter roads. “You know what? You staked your claims going in there knowing it was remote,” he said. “You knew what you were getting into.”

First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun elder Jimmy Johnny said the road could increase hunting pressure in the region.

“I want to keep it the way it is because of the future generations to come behind us,” he said.

Johnny said there are traditional trails and grave sites in the area, and he worries they could be disturbed.

“I’m 71 years old now and I still try to go out as much as possible, as long as I’m able to. And I want to show the young people the country that I knew.”

Chris Widrig, who runs Widrig Outfitters, said the road is “a dagger pointed directly at the heart of the Peel.”

“Really what this is is a way for the mining company to try to save some money,” he said.

But ATAC CEO Graham Downs said the company might not be able to develop the project any further if it can’t build the road. ATAC has been flying into the site until now, but Downs said sonic drills and other heavy equipment are now needed to advance the project.

“You can’t fly in sonic drills,” he said.

The company could use a winter road to drive in heavy equipment. But Downs said some of the rivers haven’t frozen over in recent years.

“You can’t really run a business or anything when you don’t know if you can actually get there,” he said.

Downs said ATAC has spent about $90 million on the project to date, of which $25 million was used to pay for flying fuel, drills, people and other equipment to the site.

If a mine were ever developed on the Rackla site, he said, the same route would be used for the access road.

The company has proposed two routes for the road, one of which would pass through Nacho Nyak Dun Category A settlement land. Downs said that route would allow the First Nation to control who comes and goes on the road.

“We’re still working through that,” he said. “That’ll be their decision if they’d like us to do that.”

Regardless of the route, Downs said, the company wants to keep the road private, and there would be a no-hunting policy in the area. He said placer miners and other commercial operations looking to use the road would have to be evaluated.

But McKinnon said there would be no way to keep the road private, especially after the mining company packs up and leaves.

“Bullshit. It doesn’t work,” he said. “What happens when this company’s defunct? Gone? It’s still a road.”

The First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun could not be reached by deadline and does not appear to have submitted comments to YESAB at this time.

The assessment board will be accepting public comments until Feb. 27.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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