The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board says it’s working on measures that will make Yukon’s assessment process more efficient.
The initiatives are in response to recent criticism from groups including the Yukon chambers of commerce and mines, which have argued that the assessment process is inefficient and unpredictable, and is driving business away from the Yukon.
YESAB chair Wendy Randall said one of the major plans is to develop a pre-submission process for proponents before they finalize their proposals. That process would give companies a better sense of what information YESAB will need to move projects through assessment without delays.
“They would have a better understanding of perhaps what we’re looking for … in terms of baseline information,” she said.
Randall explained that other jurisdictions like British Columbia and the Northwest Territories already have pre-submission processes in place. But that requirement was never written into the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act.
She hopes the board will be able to share its ideas for the pre-submission process with industry in the next six months.
“It’s something that we want to make sure is actually going to be of value,” she said. “We’re trying to put together a process that we hope will work.”
Randall said the board has already implemented a “completeness check” for newly submitted proposals.
“Projects were coming in with big gaps of information,” she explained. The checklist is to help fill those gaps early in the process, so they don’t create problems later on. She said YESAB can provide the checklist to proponents.
YESAB is also working to provide clearer information to companies about consultation requirements. Randall said many proponents simply document what was said during consultation meetings. But according to YESAA legislation, that’s not enough.
“We’ve got in our legislation some really specific requirements about how (consultation) is demonstrated,” she said. For instance, proponents have to say how much notice they gave prior to consultation, and whom they spoke with.
The board is now working on guidelines to help companies understand exactly what information they need to provide. Randall hopes that work will be finished soon.
Randall didn’t say whether she believes the existing YESAB process is driving business out of the territory. But she did acknowledge that Yukon’s unique YESAA legislation “has created some challenges for people.”
“We want to maintain that Yukon focus, but we also want to have something that’s effective for everybody,” she said.
Peter Turner, president of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, said he’s had “a couple of productive meetings” with YESAB to discuss his concerns about the process and these new initiatives.
He said he’s hopeful the changes will make the assessment process more predictable for industry. “The proof will be in the pudding,” he said.
Criticism of YESAB came to a head after the board referred Northern Cross’s Eagle Plain oil-and-gas project to a higher level of assessment in February, 20 months after the original proposal was submitted.
At the time, the chamber of commerce said inefficient assessment processes were making the Yukon “an impossible jurisdiction to do business in.” Northern Cross has subsequently filed for a judicial review of the decision.
Even the Yukon government waded into the fray. “Generally, I feel that the YESAB process has kind of wavered and is creating problems for businesses in the Yukon,” Economic Development Minister Stacey Hassard said in March.
However, Randall said YESAB started working on these new initiatives before the debate over Northern Cross began.
The Northern Cross recommendation hasn’t been the only one to stir up controversy. Earlier this month, YESAB recommended against licensing a contentious placer mining development near Judas Creek, over concerns about the Carcross caribou herd. Proponent Nicolai Goeppel has also complained about the amount of time that process took.
Turner suggested that YESAB could have warned Goeppel ahead of time that concerns about caribou might present an insurmountable obstacle.
“If it’s a showstopper now, surely it was a showstopper two years ago,” he said.
But Randall said that’s really not YESAB’s role. “We’re not supposed to be pre-judging everything. And every project is different,” she said. “If the area’s not off-limits, it’s not off-limits.”
Randall said she encourages anyone with concerns about the assessment process to approach the board.
“Come and talk to us. That’s really what’s going to be helpful,” she said. “We can’t address things if we don’t really know what they are.”
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