Negligence on the part of the city’s senior administration has infuriated both city council and residents of McLean Lake.
Mayor Ernie Bourassa lambasted management at this week’s council meeting for allowing an environmental assessment review to go ahead in the McLean Lake area without council approval.
The assessment is for a 14-hectare parcel of land containing Sleeping Giant Hill, projected for the location of a controversial concrete batch plant and gravel quarry.
“In the last two months, we’ve met with members of McLean Lake’s Residents Association, and have consistently told them that there is no review underway,” said Bourassa.
“To find out this past week that our planning department has actually gone ahead and started the review process without coming to council and confirming what council wanted to have reviewed is very upsetting,” he said.
“I want our staff to clearly understand that this is not acceptable.”
In March, council blocked Territorial Contracting Ltd. from building a concrete plant and quarry near McLean Lake pending an independent review.
It was meant to double check an environmental assessment commissioned by the Yukon government that claimed the plant would cause no adverse effects in the area.
The city hired environmental consultants Gartner Lee Ltd. to do the review.
But council instructed the planning department to bring the association’s draft terms of reference for council’s consideration prior to starting the review.
Bourassa said the public would have an opportunity to comment on the draft through the council review and approval process.
This never happened.
The review went ahead without any consultation or even council’s knowledge.
Both city manager Dennis Shewfelt and operations director Brian Crist accepted responsibility for the blunder.
“Essentially we had so much going on that frankly a step in making sure planning was aware of everything got missed,” said Shewfelt in an interview.
“We just didn’t catch it,” he said.
“There was no intent whatsoever to bypass council’s authority on this or to keep them out of the loop — it was simply a miscommunication,” said Crist.
The planning department went ahead with the review because they hadn’t received the instructions to report to council, he said.
In April, McLean Lake Residents Association members wrote a letter to the city outlining suggestions for the review.
Bourassa promised they would be consulted before the terms of reference were finalized.
“None of the suggestions that we made for the terms of reference — none of them — were included,” said McLean Lake resident Skeeter Miller-Wright in a presentation to council alongside resident Bob Kuiper.
“There are a number of concerns that the public raised that were, in fact, not being covered by the assessment and yet would certainly be important for council to consider as information that they should have in order to make an informed decision,” said Kuiper later in an interview.
Concerns about the plant have been raised from residents of McLean Lake, Lo-bird, Granger, Hillcrest and the Kwanlin Dun First Nation regarding damage to air and water quality, traffic, loss of greenspace and the diminishment of property value in surrounding neighbourhoods,
“The process of flagging the concerns must be done with a wide consultative process with all the individuals that have been involved,” said Kuiper.
Also, the review is not being performed by an independent third party as the bylaw required, he said.
“Gartner Lee is only talking to city staff, they’re only talking to the YTG people; they’re not talking to people that have different points of view,” said Kuiper.
“It is critical these views be brought into the equation,” he said, adding both city planning and the government hold the view that the original environmental assessment was adequate.
Kuiper suggested the review by overseen by either a multi-party committee or Yukon Ombudsman Hank Moorlag.
“There would be an obligation on the part of the reviewer to give all interests a fair hearing, so that they can truly represent something independent,” he said.
Gartner Lee had billed the city just under $10,000 for 60 hours of work.
They began the work in early May, but had not yet finished and have been advised to await further direction prior to continuing.
Council will discuss the matter at next week’s meeting and will decide on what additional steps they would like to see included in the terms of reference.
“Council will decide from a number of options being presented on which direction to go,” said Crist, adding the cost might go up depending on the decision.
“If what (council) decides is additional work, then Gartner Lee will be compensated for the additional work,” he said.
Once the city receives the final review report, they will decide on whether to rezone the area to allow Territorial Contracting to move in.
Territorial Contracting have been operating their plant at Ear Lake since the 1980s, but its lease ends in December.