The Yukon’s environmental assessment process is in the spotlight this week.
For all the wrong reasons.
It turns out the much-vaunted Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board is stretched to the max and the projects just keep on coming.
Take a quick look through the YESAB website and the list of projects currently under review seems to go on forever.
That makes sense, because that number jumped 20 per cent from 2010 to 2011. And 2012 looks to be more of the same.
The major mine reviews pose the biggest challenge – projects such as Mactung and Selwyn Chihong’s Howard’s Pass and Victoria Gold’s proposed heap-leach project.
But even smaller mining projects, like Tagish Gold’s Skukum mine and the Eagle Industrial Metal’s old Whitehorse Copper project, are highly technical and require careful scrutiny.
With mineral exploration at record highs, applications for remote camps and roads, helicopter pads and airstrips, and drilling and trenching are also pouring in.
But it’s not just mining-related projects that are adding to the board’s load.
It also deals with everything from residential land to forestry projects to garbage dumps to national park activities.
The paperwork produced and posted for just one of these projects is enough to make your head spin.
So it seems only logical the board needs more resources to properly do its job.
And, perhaps more importantly, to maintain the public’s confidence.
That confidence took a bit of a hit after the way its handled the Carmacks Copper heap-leach project. YESAB approved it, but then it went to the Yukon Water Board for review where it was promptly rejected. The water board decided the environmental risks to the Yukon River’s watershed were just too great.
Yukon First Nations are also struggling with the YESAB process.
Not only do they want a greater say in what projects get the go-ahead, individual First Nations are having a hard time keeping up with the front end of the process as well.
They’re often “overwhelmed” by the number of projects that march across their desks. Many don’t have enough money or staff to handle them all, but then they get blamed for slowing down development.
Other groups share their pain.
The review process looks great on paper, but it takes resources to participate in any meaningful way.
But even when the process does work as envisioned, the Yukon government still gets the final say on most projects.
That means it can turf the board’s recommendations, and on occasion it has.
As the Yukon’s mining industry revs up for what’s expected to be another banner year, it’s more important than ever that environmental review process has the resources it needs.
That means governments are going to have to pony up and they don’t seem to be in the mood.
But it’s either pay now, or pay a lot more later. Look no farther than Faro.