City moves its markers on claim staking

Whitehorse is pulling up stakes on its position regarding quartz mining within city limits. According to the most recent draft of the Official Community Plan, it "may" request a moratorium from the Yukon government on future mineral staking within the city.

Whitehorse is pulling up stakes on its position regarding quartz mining within city limits.

According to the most recent draft of the Official Community Plan, it “may” request a moratorium from the Yukon government on future mineral staking within the city.

Last fall, city politicians were talking about banning staking outright in the city. But January, they softened their tone, suggesting they would approach the Yukon for a temporary staking moratorium.

Now that “may” happen. Or it may not.

For years the Whitehorse Cross-Country Ski Club has fought to protect its extensive network of trails from mineral staking.

They supported council’s earlier decision to negotiate with the government. They’re also in favour of a proposed plan to build a 3,620-hectare park in the McIntyre area, which would protect the majority of their ski trails.

“We see this as a major step forward on a long-simmering issue that is in great need of attention,” the club wrote in a submission to the city following the release of the first draft of the planning document in March.

However, it wants greater assurance its trails will be protected.

The new OCP’s proposed mineral staking policy is a diluted version of council’s earlier discussions on mineral staking.

“The city may request the Yukon government to place a moratorium on future mineral staking within city limits in order to determine if a partial or total withdrawal of future mineral staking should be implemented,” the draft reads.

It’s not the only time the word “may” crops up in the 2010 Official Community Plan.

The city has replaced “shall” with “may” in other instances of the document. It’s part of the city’s strategy to make the document less regulatory so the city can’t be legally held to carry out any of its planning policies.

“It is not clear why the proposed policy is worded so tentatively (“may request”),” said the ski club in its submission.

“We urge the city to be decisive on this matter and not to delay it any further.”

Extensive parts of the club’s ski trails are already staked and other areas are at risk of being staked, said executive director Claude Chabot.

“We’re nervous about the ability to have a mine in those sites,” he said.

The issue is particularly relevant after Dawson residents learned this spring that a prospector wants to construct a placer mine on the Midnight Dome.

The very same thing could happen in Whitehorse, or in any other Yukon municipality where there is mineral staking.

The Yukon’s Quartz Mining Act allows prospectors to stake quartz claims anywhere in the territory. Placer claims can only be staked outside city limits. However, in the case of Dawson, the Dome mining claims were staked before the city expanded its boundaries.

What’s happening in Dawson leaves the Whitehorse ski club a bit anxious, said Chabot.

“It does point out the problems that can arise when you have two conflicting uses for the same area,” he said.

The city is working on the issue with the Association of Yukon Communities, said Mayor Bev Buckway, who is also association president.

At an annual general meeting in Dawson last month, Yukon municipalities voted to take up the issue of mineral staking with the territorial government. No date has been set for that meeting.

That resolution calls on the association to “approach the government of Yukon to resolve matters relating to mineral claims and conflicting surface rights within municipalities.”

Buckway couldn’t explain why the wording of the city’s mineral staking policy is so non-committal by comparison.

“It’s the wording we chose to do,” said Buckway. “It still gives council the option to ask for a moratorium.”

This week, the city released its second draft of the 2010 Official Community Plan. Next week, council will vote to bring the document forward for review. A public hearing is scheduled for June 28th. Copies of the second draft of the Official Community Plan are available at city hall or online at www.whitehorse.ca.

Contact Vivian Belik at vivianb@yukon-news.com

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