The city of Whitehorse is inviting comments on the 2010 Official Community Plan.
This plan is a guide to development and planning for the next decade or so.
It is a vision of what citizens want to see done with the physical layout of their community.
While not carved in stone this plan should ideally provide a positive direction for the city.
For example, it should dictate what areas get turned into parkland, where future subdivisions should go and how dense the downtown core can be.
A big part of the plan is land use designation.
But there is one slight problem with land use designation within the city of Whitehorse limits.
While the city continues to plan where parks, green spaces and subdivisions go, anyone who wants to can stake hard rock mineral claims in these areas.
This concept of mining free entry, the right to stake almost everywhere, is based on the assumption that mining is the first and best possible use of the land.
Try telling that to a bunch of would-be homeowners who would much rather have houses and gardens on the land instead.
To its credit the city does recognize the problem but the solution being offered is somewhat lacking in gusto.
The city is thinking of writing a letter to the Yukon government about a potential future moratorium on mineral staking.
That is right, folks, the plan actually contemplates the city possibly considering doing something.
To be fair the wording of Section 1.5 of the plan goes partially as follows.
“The City may request the Yukon Government to place a moratorium on future mineral staking within City Limits in order to determine if a partial or total withdrawal of future mineral staking should be implemented.”
This is not bold decision making.
While the city dithers on whether to ask the Yukon government for the temporary moratorium staking can continue thus possibly negating other aspects of the Official Community Plan.
One only has to look at Dawson City to see how staking and subdivisions can get into conflict.
A small subdivision on the Dome Road is planned right atop some previously staked placer claims that are slated for work.
As can be imagined strong opinions are being expressed on both the subdivision and the mining sides of the issue.
The current debate can be seen in the letters to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board regarding the Slinky claims, which are the claims that are on the Dome Road.
They letters are available for viewing on the internet at www.yesab.ca.
A solution for Whitehorse to avoid this sort of issue is to request from the Yukon government an immediate temporary moratorium on all staking within city limits.
This will permit the other recommendations from the Official Community Plan to be worked out.
Let the Whitehorse community decide where the parks, trails, houses and green spaces should go without the risk of having the very land being staked from underneath it.
Once all the designated land uses have been assigned then portions of the city could be opened up for staking, should the citizens desire it.
Current valid claims would not be affected. All the rights and obligations associated with these claims would still be in force.
What is happening now is backwards.
Staking can still be permitted while land use designations have yet to be planned.
It should be the other way round.
Land use designations must be sorted out before staking can be permitted.
Getting a temporary staking moratorium is not that difficult.
All it takes is an order-in-council from the Yukon Government.
This is what happened in the Peel Watershed.
That large remote ecosystem is deserving of proper land-use planning without the pressures of free-entry staking.
The ecosystem that is even closer to the 24,000 residents of Whitehorse is deserving of the same.
The city should ask the Yukon government for a temporary staking moratorium with Whitehorse until the new Official Community Plan is finalized.
Comments on the 2010 Official Community Plan will be accepted until March 8th.
More information can be found at www.whitehorse.ca.
Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.