Assessors approve Atlin Lake campground

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board has recommended that the Atlin Lake campground project go ahead despite opposition from First Nations and neighbours.

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board has recommended that the Atlin Lake campground project go ahead despite opposition from First Nations and neighbours.

“It feels like the government has created a legal system for itself to legally steal land from under the feet of the Taku River Tlingits. That’s the way it feels to me,” said John Ward, spokesperson for the Atlin, B.C.-based Taku River Tlingit First Nation.

The proposed campground is located on the eastern shore of Atlin Lake, just north of the British Columbia border. It is within the traditional territory of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation and the Taku River Tlingit.

Unlike the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, the Taku River Tlingit do not have a land claims agreement with the Yukon government for the portions of its traditional territory that fall within the Yukon.

The First Nation says the government must first sit down to talk about the land claim, and then talk about what land should be developed, and how.

Ward said he was “disappointed” that the assessment board did not acknowledge that in its decision.

“I think YESAB was in the wrong, knowing full well this violates our constitutional rights.”

The board did mention the potential loss of economic opportunities for the First Nation, but said it “cannot address the hypothetical outcomes of a land claim negotiation between YG and the TRTFN, specifically, what rights might be afforded to the TRTFN, if any, respecting land management decisions for the project area.”

The First Nation is seeking legal advice as to what steps to take next, said Ward. It is prepared to take the battle to court, he said. “We’re prepared to do whatever it takes to make a stand for our territory.”

The Yukon government is not likely to back down quietly at this point, he said.

“They’re not going to halt this thing and say, ‘Oh, we’re sorry, we made a mistake. Let’s talk.’ What’s done is done in their mind. They’re plan is to go ahead, bulldoze us aside, and use the land even though it’s not legally theirs, in my mind.”

Camp Yukon, a year-round recreation site located directly adjacent to the proposed campground, also opposed the development.

The group was disappointed but not surprised by the YESAB recommendation, said Joel Nettleton, the camp’s general director.

The organization was cynical with the process from the beginning, he said.

He, like many others, heard about the campground when it was announced in the news as a commitment from the government, he said.

“It wasn’t announced as if it was a possibility that was going to be looked into, and perhaps this could happen,” said Nettleton. “It was announced as something that was going to happen. ‘Merry Christmas, Yukoners, you’re going to get a new campground as a result of the wonderful Yukon government and their generosity with providing you these wonderful facilities.’ Basically, when they have announced it with that kind of a commitment in the announcement, it would be pretty humiliating for them then to … back out.”

The camp is worried about the continued loss of privacy and wilderness character in the area, said Nettleton. It is also concerned about the safety of campers and the security of camp property, he said.

A petition was tabled this week in the legislative assembly urging the government to halt action on the Atlin Lake campground and look for other options.

It suggests that the Conrad historic site, south of Carcross, would be a suitable alternative.

The site was negotiated as part of the government’s final agreement with the Carcross/Tagish First Nation.

The government must respond to the petition by December 9.

The role of the environmental and socio-economic assessment board is to look at a proposed development and determine if the negative impacts of that project can be mitigated.

If it recommends that a project go forward, it usually includes a list of recommended mitigating conditions.

In this case, the board has suggested 16 terms and conditions. Most are related to monitoring and protecting fish and wildlife in the area.

The board also recommended working with the affected First Nations to protect heritage resources in the area, and developing a safety and security action plan.

The board’s suggestions have been made to the Yukon government, which ultimately may accept, reject or modify the recommendations.

The government plans to open the campground in 2016, at a cost of $780,000 for construction.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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