Airport spat settled

In early January, bidding will resume on the $15.7-million project to expand the Whitehorse airport terminal following a resolution of the legal…

In early January, bidding will resume on the $15.7-million project to expand the Whitehorse airport terminal following a resolution of the legal fight between the Yukon government and Kwanlin Dun First Nation.

The project had been stalled since September 15, when a court injunction ceased the tendering of bids for the construction work. The two parties reached an agreement out of court 10 weeks later, on November 27.

The legal battle had been fought over what benefits the Kwanlin Dun would receive from the work.

Such benefits are required under the First Nation’s land-claims agreement, which requires the territory to strike a special deal with the Kwanlin Dun for any construction project on its traditional territory worth more than $3 million.

The First Nation insisted these obligations meant the airport work should be sole-sourced to a partnership formed between it and a large construction company, Dominion Construction.

This raised fears among Yukon contractors the territory’s competitive bidding process would be compromised.

This didn’t happen.

Instead, the work will be put up for competition. But the contract will include conditions that require the winning company to make its “best efforts” to hire Kwanlin Dun workers and companies, said Mike Johnson, deputy minister of public works.

The contract will spell out what “best efforts” means, and include mechanisms to ensure these conditions are met, said Johnson.

The deal includes no hard employment targets.

The First Nation is to hire a liaison officer, with money in part provided by the territory, who will create an inventory of Kwanlin Dun workers and companies interested in working on the project.

The completion date of the project has been pushed back from the spring to the autumn of 2010. This means customs officials who inspect Condor Air’s flights from Germany will continue to work in a trailer for two more summers.

The contract should be awarded in February, giving the winning company enough time to move steel, lumber and other materials into place to begin construction in April or May, said Johnson.

One unexpected consequence of the legal squabble is that the territory will be able to take advantage of falling commodity prices. As a result, the project may cost less than expected, said Johnson.

The bid delay was short enough that companies should be able to revise their proposals, rather than start all over, said Johnson.

With the dispute behind them, Public Works officials now have a better idea of how to reach future construction deals with First Nations, he said.

“We’ve learned what we need to put on the table to honour the agreement,” said Johnson.

“The next roadblock is that this thing needs to come within spitting distance of our budget.”

Contact John Thompson at