Amid concerns, ATAC Resources insists it needs new access road

Yukon’s assessment board is reviewing a proposed access road northeast of Keno City that has elicited concern from residents, the local renewable resources council and Environment Yukon.

Yukon’s assessment board is reviewing a proposed access road northeast of Keno City that has elicited concern from residents, the local renewable resources council and Environment Yukon.

ATAC Resources Ltd. is looking to build a 65-kilometre all-season road off the existing Hanson Lakes road to access its Tiger Gold deposit 55 kilometres from Keno.

The road would require eight or nine bridges and nearly 40 culverts, and would cost about $11 million to build.

The company claims it may not be able to develop the project any further without a road.

Since the News first reported on the proposal last month, YESAB has received dozens of comments about the project, almost all opposing it.

The comments range from pragmatic to poetic, and even include references to John Muir and Henry David Thoreau.

Many people voiced concerns about opening up another section of the Yukon to hunters and traffic.

“I think allowing this project to be approved will have long term impacts to: wildlife due to hunting, wetlands, camping and overuse of settlement lands, drinking water, potential for forest fires…,” wrote Denise Simmons, who identified herself as a citizen of the First Nation of Nacho Nyäk Dun.

“We should not be in a hurry to exchange our precious and rapidly disappearing wilderness for narrowly defined and historically unreliable business interests,” wrote Doug Gilday.

ATAC has promised that the road would be gated and patrolled to deter unauthorized users, and that it would be decommissioned when the company leaves. It has offered to run part of the road through Nacho Nyäk Dun settlement land, so the First Nation could have more control over who comes and goes.

But many seem unconvinced. “Never has a road been successfully kept from opening a country, once the access is there it will be used all year round,” wrote Mary Beattie.

Others, including Nacho Nyäk Dun elder Christine Hager, raised concerns about the impact of the road on permafrost and fish habitat.

In its submission to the board, the Mayo District Renewable Resources Council pointed out that there is no land-use plan in place for the area.

“Major land-use decisions with long-term implications such as this new road should not go ahead before land-use planning,” the council wrote.

It also expressed concern about building an all-season road to an exploration project that might never turn into a mine.

Environment Yukon also found that the project “will result in significant adverse effects to valued ecosystem components.”

Still, a few voices have chimed in to support the road proposal, arguing that the project will generate jobs and revenue.

“Both my partner and I found our way to the Yukon Territory … through the employment opportunities provided by mineral exploration,” wrote Laura Vinnedge. “We are committed to living in the North and giving back to our community, but have often been frustrated by the lack of living wage opportunities that exist past government employment.”

“Mayo, the Yukon, Canada need economic development that is done responsibly,” wrote Jon Rudolph, vice-president of operations with Cobalt Construction Inc. “The Yukon currently is nothing more than a welfare state supported by Ottawa at a huge cost to the rest of Canada.”

Many commenters suggested alternatives to an all-season road, including the use of winter roads, the Wind River Trail, continued air travel and even air ships.

In October, the First Nation of Nacho Nyäk Dun filed a request for more information from the company, including an analysis of alternatives to the road.

In its response, submitted March 17, ATAC maintains that there are no viable alternatives, in part because warmer temperatures are making ice roads less reliable.

“ATAC does not feel that it would be safe … to transport large amounts of fuel and other supplies across ice bridges given these weather conditions,” the response reads.

The company also claims that it cannot transport the heavy equipment it needs to the site by air.

In an email to the News, CEO Graham Downs said he’s not surprised by the amount of attention his proposal has received.

“I would say that the level of interest is in line with similar projects and therefore was understandable and expected,” he wrote.

YESAB is now deciding whether to request more information from the mining company or to prepare its recommendation.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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