Cleaning up the Whitehorse tank farm could take a bit longer than anticipated.
Bowing to pressure from the Hillcrest Community Association, the Whitehorse city councillors who are facing re-election next month decided to put off a decision on amending the Official Community Plan that would have allowed for the cleanup to take place.
However, before any work could have begun, the project would still have had to go through an environmental assessment by the Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Board and get the approval of the Yukon government.
“This OCP amendment, to be clear, doesn’t permit the developer to do anything different than it did yesterday,” said Mike Gau the city’s manager of planning and development services.
The idea of passing the amendment was simply to speed up the process.
“Essentially you lose a (building) season or we get it going concurrently,” said Coun. Ranj Pillai.
“If we can’t run a concurrent process here then there really is something wrong,” added Mayor Bev Buckway.
Coun. Florence Roberts was even more blunt in her condemnation of the deferral.
“It’s been in the works to clean up this piece of ground ever since I came to the Yukon 40 years ago,” she said. “We finally got the feds out of our hair with that piece of property … and now we have the whole community up in arms because something good is going to be done on that spot.”
The tank farm, a 57-hectare parcel of land between Valleyview and Hillcrest, was originally owned by the federal government and used to store fuel pumped from Skagway.
Yukon Pipeline Limited, a subsidiary of White Pass, bought the 144-kilometre-long pipeline from the US military in 1958.
The pipeline closed in 1996, and the company spent more than a decade cleaning up the site.
The property, which is still designated a contaminated site, is now owned by local businessman Mike Mikey, who has partnered with Paramjit Sidhu of Sidhu Trucking, and has plans to clean up the site and turn it into a residential subdivision.
That’s going to mean a large amount of contaminated soil will have to be moved and cleaned, which has raised the ire of neighbours.
“We feel that there has not been enough information provided about this project,” said Jean-Paul Molgat, president of the Hillcrest Community Association.
“It’s not that Hillcrest residents are opposed to remediation,” he said. “I think most Hillcrest residents would support that, and I think most Hillcrest residents would also support the development of housing development.
“What we’re asking to do is to use the precautionary principle.”
Molgat urged council to defer any decision on amending the OCP until the assessment board finishes its work.
All four councilors who are seeking re-election voted to defer the amendment.
“I’m really suspicious of a parallel process,” said Coun. Betty Irwin. “While I’m in favour of developing the tank farm into a residential area I am really hesitant to say, ‘Well, let’s just go ahead full bore.’”
“It is critical that we develop this property. I mean this is just wasted space,” said Coun. Kirk Cameron. “Having said that, being a strong proponent of having that land developed, I still heard loud and clear in my new role as city councillor that citizens are really, really uncomfortable with where that project is going.”
The project is now before the assessment board and won’t come back to council until that process is complete.
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