Council backs up on tank farm cleanup

The cleanup of the Whitehorse tank farm is back on track.

The cleanup of the Whitehorse tank farm is back on track.

Tuesday night, council reversed a decision made only a few weeks earlier to hold off on amending the Official Community Plan until an environmental assessment was complete, a move that could have delayed the cleanup for an entire year.

Mayor Bev Buckway tabled the motion to reconsider that decision.

“I don’t believe there’s any purpose in making this go on any longer than necessary, and I do believe that we’re totally within our rights and it’s totally acceptable to run a parallel process,” she said.

But the Hillcrest Community Association remained steadfast in their insistence there should be no changes to the OCP until the environmental assessment was complete.

“This is putting the cart before the horse,” said Heather Swystun. “Until there is an unbiased expert review of this project that deems a quarry is the best socio-economic and environmentally safe method for remediation there should be no changes to the Official Community Plan.”

While there are many ways of cleaning up the contaminated site, this is the one that has come forward, said Coun. Ranj Pillai.

Any concerns that come up from the environmental assessment can still be addressed through the zoning and permitting process, he said.

The Yukon Conservation Society agreed, although it wants the city to commit to not going any further with the project until an environmental assessment is complete.

The city should also require the developer to put up a bond to ensure the work gets done, and limit the final permits to two years, said Karen Baltgailis, the executive director of the conservation society.

Two of the four councillors who originally voted to delay the OCP amendment came over to the other side.

“I really was unclear as to what the steps would be to ensure that there would be proper remediation of the site,” said Coun. Kirk Cameron.

After talking to administration, he now feels he has a far better handle on the process and that there are enough checks and balances to ensure that the project is done properly.

Not only does the project have to pass the scrutiny of the Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Board, but the cleanup plan has to meet the standards of the Department of Environment. While the city needs to uphold the Yukon government’s provisions, it’s free to attach other conditions in the permits and development agreements that are required before work can begin.

In addition, the city can amend the zoning on the property at any time, said Cameron.

“With that multitude of steps that are in front of us, my sense is that if we move this forward through the OCP process we are helping make sure that the private developer in question is going to stay committed to this project,” he said. “It’s a small step, I believe, on route to doing what we need to do here, which is to reclaim this piece of land.”

Not everyone was on board, however.

“They’re simply asking that we slow the process down,” said Coun. Betty Irwin.

Pushing through the OCP amendment is minimizing the concerns of the public, she said.

“This could be a tempest in a tea cup or it could be the Titanic, said Coun. Dave Stockdale, who also voted to put off the amendment. “I don’t believe the developer will walk away from this. It’s too rich a project.”

But while a year-long delay might not seem like much to a government, for a private enterprise it’s another matter, said Pillai.

“If you’ve got $5 million and you’re willing to put it all on the line to get this done, it’s a different story.”

The OCP amendment has now passed second reading. It will be up to the next council to give it a third and final reading after the election.

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com