Canoeists paddle their way through Miles Canyon last May. It is near this spot, at kilometre 1415 on the Alaska Highway, that Norcope Construction Group is looking for an industrial designation that would allow for a gravel quarry. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Contentious Whitehorse quarry proposal raises city hackles

‘We’ve had concerns from the get-go on this one’

The question of a quarry will once again come forward when Whitehorse City Council meets next week.

Norcope Construction Group wants council to amend the Official Community Plan (OCP) designation for a parcel of land next to the UTAH siding yard, at kilometre 1415 on the Alaska Highway.

This land is currently zoned mixed-use-industrial/commercial. Norcope is looking for an industrial designation that would allow for a gravel quarry.

Doug Gonder, Norcope’s president, said his company has invested a lot of time and money in the potential development since bringing an application forward in September 2016. In March 2017, city administration recommended the application be defeated at first reading.

Reasons for this included Norcope’s plan to use Miles Canyon Road, a tourism hotspot, as a year-round access point for 30 trucks daily.

As well, city administration said Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, both of which own land in the area, wrote letters stating they do not support the quarry. KDFN was unable to respond before press time. A TKC spokesperson said TKC had nothing to add.

During the Jan. 8 standing committees meeting, Norcope presented a revised application that reduced the size of the proposed quarry from 21.5 to 9.9 hectares. This creates a buffer between the site and residential areas. It also pushes the quarry back from the Miles Canyon lookout.

Gonder says Whitehorse needs gravel for continued development, and his company has been scouting pit locations for 25 years.

“Our problem is, what applicant would go and spend $100,000 or more through the permitting process to find out that the city, near the end, would dispute it?” Gonder says. “It’s totally ridiculous.”

“They shouldn’t have taken my application if they knew they were going to come up with problems.… I’ve got a lot better things I could invest my money in.”

However, city planner Kinden Kosick said the city was always clear with Gonder that the quarry wasn’t a sure thing.

“We’ve had concerns from the get-go on this one,” Kosick told the News.

“Originally Norcope came to the city with a request to do some test pitting in the area. We said ‘we can support that, but note that (a quarry) is not allowed in this area and there would be future permitting and future decisions through council.’”

Kosick says the area is not ideal for development as is, but there’s hope that, in concert with surrounding landholders, the site can eventually be developed as mixed-use-industrial/commercial.

If the site is instead zoned industrial, as Norcope is asking, and a quarry operates there for 10 to 15 years as Gonder estimates, Kosick says the high slopes left by the pit, some up to 20 metres high, would make the parcel difficult to develop.

Kosick also says an OCP review process is slated to begin in the near future.

It will look at the city’s gravel supply in general, rather than on an ad hoc basis. Once that’s been done, he said, the city will have a better handle on how much industrial land it needs, and whether designations should be changed.

Meanwhile, Gonder is hopeful council will allow the proposal to go to a public hearing instead of allowing “three people behind a desk (to give) the opinion for all of Whitehorse.”

“At the end of the day, this is why we have council,” he said.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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