utility should slow down

Once again, we find the Yukon Party government playing fast and loose with public reviews. Hot on the heels of the government’s decision to…

Once again, we find the Yukon Party government playing fast and loose with public reviews.

Hot on the heels of the government’s decision to toss aside a Yukon Environment Socio-economic Assessment board recommendation on a farming application, we find the Crown-owned Yukon Energy Corporation awarding a $450,000 contract to plan the Carmacks-to-Stewart Crossing transmission line.

The contract is being issued even though the $20-million transmission line has not cleared several public reviews.

It shouldn’t proceed until it has.

A power-purchase agreement with Sherwood Copper is under consideration by the Yukon Utilities Board, but no decision has been made.

After that decision, due at the end of April, another comprehensive review by the board has been ordered by Justice Minister Marian Horne. It isn’t clear when it will begin, or how long it will take.

Or if it will be endorsed.

And the environment and socio-economic assessment board is also reviewing the power grid extension.

That review is expected to take at least five months.

It requires First Nations, energy watchdogs, industry, environmental groups, communities, landowners and any other concerned citizen to review the plan, assess its impacts and make recommendations.

It requires considerable effort.

Following that, the seven-member board will deliberate and decide whether the project should proceed, or not, and will make a recommendation to the minister.

The minister responsible for the utility can accept or reject it.

But that work doesn’t seem to matter.

This week, the government pledged $10 million to build the line. That almost guarantees utility board approval, because it ensures the line won’t impact rates.

And YEC has already issued the $450,000 pre-design contract.

Apparently the project is a go, whatever the review bodies decide.

Frankly, it’s a strange way to run a territory.

There are rules and processes. You either follow them or you don’t.

The government is pretending to follow them, but it looks determined to proceed whatever those reviews decide.

So, what if the assessment board decides the route has to be altered?

How does that impact the $450,000 design the government just bought? We suggest it could have a significant effect, but the plan will already be drafted.

It’s almost as if the utility has completely forgotten the Mayo-Dawson transmission line.

That classic utility botch up, completed in 2003, went more than $7 million over budget and resulted in lawsuits.

The project was plagued by design problems, according to federal auditor general Sheila Fraser, who probed the mess.

It was poorly managed, she said.

And contracts were awarded without competition or explanation.

Sound familiar?

Now, six years after that project began, history appears to be repeating itself.

The utility is rushing ahead with a power-line project to accommodate a mining company and is issuing contracts before completion of several public processes that are supposed to vet the proposal.

Utility watchdogs call this reckless, and warn that it pressures the review bodies.

Some suggest that it leads to poor decisions. Costly decisions.

History supports that assessment.

The utility should respect the established processes, and wait. (RM)


News columnist wins

international award

Congratulations are due the News’ wandering columnist Lawrence Millman.

Recently, Millman won the prestigious Northern Lights Award for Today’s Arctic Will Provide a Few Shocks, published in this paper on October 27 (it can be read at www.yukon-news.com).

The story was judged the best newspaper article written about Canada in 2006.

Millman will receive the award at a dinner in New York City on April 17th at the Canadian Media Marketplace ’07.

The award, presented by the Canadian Tourism Commission, celebrates excellence in travel journalism.