the power of representative government

Every once in a while an issue surfaces that underscores how different the cultures of Whitehorse and Dawson City are.

Every once in a while an issue surfaces that underscores how different the cultures of Whitehorse and Dawson City are.

At these times we actually have to give credit to the Yukon cabinet, which seems to understand these differences. Because, if city slickers, review boards and actual commoners were allowed to guide development, errors would be made.

And, in the case of the Slinky placer mine project, they almost were.

Now in Whitehorse, having some guy pushing house-sized mounds of gravel and dirt with a D9 Caterpillar tractor all day just a rock’s throw from your kitchen window would probably reduce your property value.

Apparently not in Dawson.

That’s the finding of the Yukon’s Mines Minister Patrick Rouble after considering Darrell Carey’s placer project.

Before Rouble evaluated the project, there was a lot of hullaballoo.

People didn’t truly understand how little impact Carey’s proposal would have on their lives.

Carey wants to exercise his right to dig up the Midnight Dome, exploiting 19 claims he’s staked there. Those claims actually overlap several residential properties in a local 74-lot subdivision.

Carey might dig up those people’s lands to get at gold he suspects is buried there. The other 60-odd residents will be less affected by the industrial operation.

Over the next 10 years, they will probably see the access road to their subdivision dug up and moved a few times. Returning from the grocery, they’ll have to contend with heavy equipment and fuel trucks on that road. Local children will have to yell “dump truck!” or “Cat!” in the middle of their road hockey games. Recreational trails will vanish and there will be dust and noise and other irritants.

But Dawson is, after all, a mining town. Residents should have anticipated as much when the town and territory created housing lots in the area in the ‘90s, right atop Carey’s claims.

But, apparently, not all did. Hence the hullaballoo.

As is standard with such projects, The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board was tasked with reviewing Carey’s proposal. The Dawson office of the assessment board handled the file.

It solicited feedback from residents, and received 81 thoughtful submissions which were, for the most part, negative.

The board also examined the project from six perspectives, considering environmental quality, aquatic resources, public health and safety, wildlife and wildlife habitat, heritage resources and community values, interest and quality.

The review took several months. After considering the public submissions, doing its own research and combing through 17 other documents, the board wrote a 30-page report.

It recommended cabinet reject the mine proposal.

“The designated office has determined that the project will have significant adverse environmental or socio-economic effects in or outside Yukon that cannot be mitigated.”

That considered decision was delivered on March 8.

Fifteen days later, Rouble dismissed its findings and approved the mine.

“While the (government) recognizes that this project may affect certain community values (e.g. existing trails) the effect to these values is not considered significant given the magnitude and reversibility of those potential effects,” wrote Rouble on March 23 in his decision.

“The (government) does not accept that this project will reduce property values in the surrounding area given that the project has been in operation for a number of years and property values throughout the town of Dawson City have been on the rise.”

And, so, the fears were dismissed and Dawson’s reputation as a mining town preserved.

In fact, as if to reinforce the merits of the decision, Community Services Minister Archie Lang also gave the OK to a new subdivision on top of Carey’s mining claims the same day.

Again, Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board had rejected the subdivision idea.

“Mitigations proposed by the proponent in addition to those recommended by the designated office are considered adequate to eliminate, reduce or control most significant adverse affects of this project,” the assessment board wrote.

“However, significant adverse affects on the livelihood and lifestyle of the mineral claim holders within the Dome area and their families could not be mitigated.”

That is, Carey’s mining plans would be seriously affected by a housing subdivision erected on his claims.

Lang dismissed this considered opinion.

“It is, however, possible for both these projects to occur, providing they either: a) do not proceed concurrently, or b) proceed in a manner whereby the placer operation is not significantly affected,” he wrote, in direct contrast to the assessment board’s findings.

Clearly, conditions in Dawson are far different than they are in Whitehorse.

In the big city, mining will impact housing prices. In Dawson, they don’t. In Whitehorse, authorizing a subdivision on top of a workin g mine would be seen as ridiculous. In Dawson, not so. It’s little more than a scheduling problem, easily fixed.

While the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board failed to realize this after an extensive review, cabinet did.

And, after all, recognizing when repeated mistakes are made, and taking responsibility for correcting them is what democratic government is all about.

Postscript: While this editorial presumes regional differences – that mining abutting residential lots may affect safety, lifestyle and property values in one community, but not another – such assumptions may simply be wrong.

Tomorrow, Whitehorse will end discussion of its draft Official Community Plan.

Among other things, the new plan proposes tweaking the industrial designation, taking the current three and reducing them to two.

In effect, service industrial and major industrial designations could be lumped together in one category (see letter on page 10).

The result would allow service industrial lots abutting residential subdivisions to be used for major industrial purposes. In effect, people living in existing subdivisions could see heavy industrial development, like a mine or other intensive manufacturing operation, open up next door on what was previously a less ominous service industrial lot.

It could create a situation similar to the Slinky mine in Dawson City. Which may have little effect on its neighbours at all. It may be OK.

But a reasonable person might have concerns about such a change to the OCP.

If you do, and given the deadline, you might want to contact your city councillor and discuss it with them.

Here are their numbers, pulled from the city website:

Dave Stockdale: 668-3358.

Doug Graham: 633-2693.

Bev Buckway: 633-5345.

Ranj Pillai: 668-7844.

Florence Roberts: 633-2946.

Betty Irwin: 633-5499.

Dave Austin: 668-4829.

Or simply e-mail the city at ocp@whitehorse.ca.