Glenda Bolt came home last summer and found someone digging holes in her backyard.
The Dawson resident had bought her house on Mary McLeod Road five years ago.
And she knew about the mining claims.
It was hard to miss the large piles of gravel that stretched on for kilometres into a scraped-out gulley residents compared to a “moonscape.”
But those claims, some less than 100 metres from her backdoor, had been dormant for years and Bolt assumed they’d stay that way.
That was, until she discovered a man trespassing on her property digging holes.
Next came the sound of backhoes pushing gravel back and forth near her home.
Then trees started disappearing from the sides of Dome Road.
Once the snow came, things quieted down.
But in January, Bolt’s fears returned when she learned the owner of the claims, Darrell Carey, was planning an intensive 10-year placer mining operation on the land.
The announcement to build the Slinky Placer Mine immediately sparked concerns from residents living in the Midnight Dome subdivision, said Bolt.
“Everyone is feeling threatened about the mine.”
Carey has 19 claims staked in the Dome area dating back to 1988 and 1989. And some of them overlap residents’ lots.
Carey wants to mine two separate areas, including a large swath of land beneath Dome Road, he wrote in a submission to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board.
The operation would require him to tear down the road and reconstruct a new road and build out-of-stream reservoirs on the land.
Bolt is particularly concerned about the prospect of industrial trucks rumbling up and down Dome Road creating noise and damage and putting the safety of pedestrians at risk.
She hopes that the cost of repairing the road doesn’t fall on the backs of citizens if the mining operation is abandoned or goes bankrupt, she said.
She’s also worried the mine will drive down the value of houses in her area.
“There’s 74 homes on the Dome subdivision, it’s an economic impact for the community,” she said.
But even though she doesn’t want to see the project go through, Bolt is adamant she’s still in favour of placer mining.
“I’m not against mining, I believe it’s a legitimate and viable industry,” she said.
“I just want miners to take things into consideration like the surrounding community and ecosystem.”
But it’s not just Dome residents who are worried.
Downtown resident Jim Taggart is concerned that territorial legislation too often trumps municipal land-use plans.
He’s also concerned about the safety and health of residents who live in the Dome subdivision.
“There’s issues of noise and dust and I don’t think any of these can be mitigated as far as I’m concerned,” he said referencing Carey’s proposal.
Others are worried about the loss of ski and bike trails on the Dome.
Signs have appeared along cross-country ski trails in Dawson urging residents to lodge their concerns with the Yukon Environmental Socio-Economic Assessment Board.
The issue has struck a bitter chord in Dawson City and polarized residents in a town that has long supported its gold miners.
On one side are residents who feel the territory’s Quartz Mining Act is outdated and unfairly allows miners to trump citizens’ land rights.
On the other are miners concerned that their legal rights to the land are at stake.
“Any reduction in the ability to mine (my family’s) claim will have a significantly negative economic impact on us,” wrote Carey in a submission to the socio-economic assessment board.
“If they steal my claims that will prove that miners have no rights,” he wrote.
Carey and his wife refused comment to the News.
To address the issue, Dawson City held two special council meetings, one on Friday and the other Monday.
That’s when the town announced it wanted to meet with the three other levels of government as well as the placer and quartz mining industry to discuss land use and mining conflicts in the region.
“The city is not opposed to mining, but the issue is that today you can still stake a claim inside municipal boundaries of any municipality in the Yukon,” said Mayor Peter Jenkins on Tuesday.
He wants to bring the issue forward at the upcoming Association of Yukon Communities meeting in March.
“(Banning claims in municipalities) is pretty consistent across Canada,” he said.
In a submission to the assessment board, Dawson hesitantly came out on the side of residents, stating that “the right of the citizens to quiet enjoyment of their properties is as important (as mining).”
Complicating the issue was a concurrent proposal from the Yukon government to build 14 country-residential lots right in the middle of Carey’s claims.
That application was thrown out by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board last week, citing overlapping mining claims in the area.
“The ability for the claim holder to access those (sub-surface) minerals will effectively be eliminated, reduced or lead to undue hardship for the claim holder,” read the board’s evaluation report from February 22.
In order for the government to build on that land, they would have to either expropriate Carey’s land or buy him out.
The latter option could become a very real option, said John Steins, former mayor of Dawson.
“It’s like he’s sitting on a lottery ticket,” he said.
The cost of his claims are unknown, but Carey points out that the price of gold has soared five fold since he bought the claims 12 years ago.
Steins thinks the dispute should have been resolved a decade ago.
“Part of the problem is that the Official Community Plan from the early ‘90s predicted these conflicts but yet the city and the territory went ahead and opened up developments on Dome Road anyway,” he said.
“They invited people to move there and invest, knowing full well there was potential for conflict down the road.
“Now, today, we’re paying the price.”
Calls to Dawson MLA Steve Nordick were not returned.
The Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board will release its recommendations in two weeks.
Contact Vivian Belik at