Yukon’s bottled water guru plans expansion

After two decades, the Yukon Spring Inc. water-bottling plant is planning to expand. The property, about one kilometre east of the Alaska Highway in Crestview, predates the city's plan for the subdivision.

After two decades, the Yukon Spring Inc. water-bottling plant is planning to expand.

The property, about one kilometre east of the Alaska Highway in Crestview, predates the city’s plan for the subdivision.

So, owner Paul Sheridan has been grandfathered in city’s official community plan, enabling him to run his commercial business from a residential property for 22 years.

It is called a “non-conforming use.”

The catch is that use can’t change.

But Sheridan wants to expand. So that is forcing him to jump through the proper, regulatory hoops.

“He’s had to wait until the (new) OCP was passed to do the zoning and now the zoning’s happening,” said Whitehorse senior planner Mike Ellis, who introduced the property’s change from country residential to commercial/industrial zoning on Monday.

“There’s all kinds of stuff going on around town that’s a non-confirming use,” he said, noting several buildings and businesses built and running before the city began enforcement.

“It’s not like it’s an unusual situation for a commercial property to be operating where the regulations say that’s not allowed.”

Sheridan came to Yukon in 1966 as a teacher for FH Collins Secondary School. Back then, he moonlighted as a recreational dog musher, kenneling more than 200 dogs. However, he retired before the Yukon Quest began, he said.

The kennels came down and Yukon Spring Inc. began in 1988. It now sells approximately 76,000 litres of natural spring water annually, said Nikki Sheridan, Paul’s daughter and the company’s general manager.

Their clientele ranges from private homes to stores like Shoppers Drug Mart. But, except for a brief contract with a Japanese buyer, shipping costs have kept the company local.

“We’ve had a lot of people outside of Canada looking at our water, but when I give them a price, it’s too expensive,” said Nikki Sheridan.

The goal is self-sufficiency, she said, noting essential elements – like the bottles – have to be shipped in.

The proposed expansion hopes to include bottle-making machinery and will replace the plant’s trailers with solid structures.

The main trailer came from Faro and, in 1988, it was already old, said Paul Sheridan, laughing.

It’s just time to get new, go bigger and become more of a competitor within Canada as well as internationally, both said.

“I think it would be beneficial to our community as well,” said Nikki Sheridan. “If we can export our product, it would just make us that much more known.”

The product promotes the whole territory, said Paul Sheridan.

People don’t have to worry about the fact we’re selling local water as a commodity, he said.

“We have an addition to the Yukon – we’re not just raping it and sending our money elsewhere. It’s staying here in our community.”

Besides, they hire local employees, he said.

The water business is like a wind farm, he said. Any time it rains or snows the resource is renewed.

Plus, they own the spring they pull the water from, he said.

“The public doesn’t have access to this water,” he said. “It’s an underground supply that feeds into the Yukon River, so all we’re doing is interrupting that feed and taking some of it out. The balance still goes into the Yukon River and we have a limit under our water license of 350 cubic metres per day. And we’re not even close to that.”

And it’s all natural, said Nikki Sheridan.

“We know about the product, we know what’s in it,” she said. “If you knew what you were drinking, you would understand why we’re so passionate about it. Because it contains natural minerals.”

Also, it does not contain chlorine or any other chemicals often used by the bottled water industry.

The only process the water goes through from the ground to the bottle is ozonation, according to the pair.

Ozonation is required by regulations.

The water is tested biweekly and has never shown a problem, said Paul Sheridan.

As well, there’s a city agreement stipulating the wells are tested once a month for possible contamination from the Whitehorse landfill and Crestview sewage lagoon.

Beyond that, the operation is regulated by the Canada Food Inspection Agency.

The federal agency cannot release any information about testing results without an access to information request.

“It’s good water,” Sheridan said in the cramped trailer, surrounded by large, water-cooler bottles. On his right they are full; on his left they sit empty, atop the small conveyor belt.

“It’s time,” he said of the planned expansion. “And we’re hiring!”

City council hasn’t passed the zoning changes yet.

But Councillor Doug Graham says he has no problem with it.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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