The longest running review by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board is nearing its end.
The proposal to build a concrete batch plant at McLean Lake has been before the Whitehorse office of the board since October 2010.
“I do believe this project is one of the longest-standing in the process to date,” said Jennifer Anthony, manger of the office. “It’s got a long history in our process. Two years is a long time.”
The project actually goes back much further, to the early 1990s, said Ron Newsome, the proponent and owner of Territorial Contracting.
That’s when Newsome first brought the idea to the territory’s attention, he said. He agreed the process has taken a long time and has been very expensive.
Newsome was unwilling to comment extensively on the matter until the decision is finally made. “But in the end it’s a good project in my mind and there is a need for this development in the community,” he said.
Other people aren’t so sure.
While the territory’s growing need for concrete may be undeniable, local residents, First Nations and conservationists are worried what the consequences of this project may be.
Apart from increased noise, traffic and stress to wildlife in the area, the main concerns have to do with water.
Along with plans to expand his four-hectare site by another three hectares and then build the concrete plant, Newsome has proposed to take all of his water needs from a deep well he has already dug and paid for.
McLean Lake also depends on groundwater, and there is little information on how big diversions could affect the lake and surrounding watershed, wrote Skeeter Miller-Wright, a resident of the adjacent Squatter’s Row and long-time opponent of the project.
Both the Ta’an Kwach’an Council and the Kwanlin Dun First Nation submitted comments to the assessment board as well, voicing their concerns about the possible affects to water, among other things.
The Kwanlin Dun First Nation even listed Chapter 14 of their final agreement, which gives their citizens the right to “water for our traditional uses, which is substantially unaltered with respect to quantity, quality or rate of flow, including seasonal rate of flow.”
The Yukon Conservation Society also voiced its water concerns, including the fact that McLean Lake is home to fish, such as rainbow trout, and is surrounded by forest that black bears, moose, lynx, foxes, wolverines, and many other wildlife species call home. They would like to see the area turned into a park for the growing capital, like Stanley Park is for Vancouver and Central Park is for New York City.
Water has been the main reason why this review has taken so long, said Anthony.
But it hasn’t caused a barrage of public input, even though the project is now in its fourth round of “seeking views and information.”
What really took a while was the six times the board had to ask Newsome for more information.
“I think that’s perhaps a record-breaker,” said Anthony. “We don’t usually need to or want to go through that many rounds of questions. This one really had a lot of information for folks. And that’s why we get into that level of information – so that we can actually accurately conduct the assessment. We’d be pretty remiss to conduct an assessment on vague or misinformation, or just no information. So that’s why with proponents we go back and forth and really clarify particular points and understand site concepts. We don’t need detailed engineer designs or plans but we do need to get a concept.”
The problem wasn’t that Newsome was unco-operative, but each time the board got more information, it raised more questions, said Anthony.
“I can’t speak for the proponent,” she said. “But I would say that they responded to the information requests probably in a manner that they felt was sufficient at the time. In hindsight, I think that we would like to see fewer information requests and (instead, maybe) sit down with them on a more regular basis.”
Now the project is in its final stage for public comment, and the decision on whether or not Newsome can build a plant to make concrete out at McLean Lake will be made before the end of the year.
Members of the public have until August 29 to add their say, then the board has 35 days to review all the information and offer their recommendations, at which point the government has 30 days to make its final decision.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at